An Unknown Market - a New Challenge
Honda motorcycles soon became a fixture on the American scene, and the sales figure for 1970 passed the 500,000 unit mark. The product line expanded, as well, from the 50 cc Honda Mini-Trail (export version of the Monkey/Dax) to large, high-performance 750 cc road bikes.
It was not easy getting there, however. By 1965, the U.S. was heavily engaged in the Vietnam War. Many young American men, representing the core market for the Honda 50, went off to battle in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Society showed signs of confusion as the financial markets began to wobble, and soon it was difficult to finance even a smaller purchase like a motorcycle. By the spring of 1966, sales of the 50 and other American Honda products were in a nosedive. The slump would continue for some time.
Distress in the American social fabric was commonly perceived as the reason for the slump. Others, however, held a different opinion, saying changes in fashion had diminished the novelty of Honda products.
In addition to a program of price cuts spurred by slashed advertising costs, American Honda began adding optional accessories to its products so that special models could be sold in different styles. Other measures taken to increase product demand included urging the Honda R&D Center to concentrate on the development of new products for the American consumer. As a result, American Honda was able to create a new market for motorcycle sales, launching another product-the Mini-Trail (U.S. version of the 90 cc Hunter Cub) in 1966. This was a motorcycle designed to meet the needs of people who had modified their Honda 50s to ride through wide-open and mountainous terrain.
The Honda Mini-Trail went on sale in 1968, and was instantly accepted as a bike so easy to ride, even a kid could do it. Families everywhere were seen enjoying their Mini-Trails on weekends outdoors.
Moreover, the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) hoped to employ the Mini-Trail as a tool to teach young people to actively engage in group activities so that they might grow into responsible adults. The YMCA believed that teaching kids to ride Mini-Trails in a safe and proper manner, and teaching them how to use them constructively, would help achieve this goal. American Honda supported the YMCA concept, agreeing to donate the requested number of thirty Mini-Trails. Additionally, the company provided service parts and accommodated the YMCA's request that mechanics classes be held.
As a result, kids who were not previously interested in YMCA activities began participating, and with great enthusiasm. The YMCA stated, in praise of the Mini-Trail project, that motorcycle activities had also helped prevent juvenile delinquencies. Newspapers and magazines began to feature the YMCA story in large pull-out sections, and these features created a major public reaction.
The program was a great success, and in October 1970, American Honda donated a total of 10,000 Mini-Trails - valued at about $2.5 million - to YMCA chapters across the country. The company's support of the Y-NYPUM (YMCA National Youth Project Using Minibikes) project would indeed continue.
In February 1971 at the Dealer's Convention in Washington, D.C., Soichiro Honda offers encouragement to Mr. Davis, left, who started the YMCA's minibike project, and a young participant. Seen in front is the Honda Mini-Trail.