The Motorcycle as Popular Product

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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.

Having lost its main products for the time being, American Honda was forced to carry on by placing its remaining product, the Super Cub, in the spotlight. The Super Cub-or, the Honda 50 in the U.S.-was a performance model, featuring twice the horsepower of competing products. Plus, it was small and easy to ride, with a quiet four-stroke engine. The motorcycle appealed to the public as one that was convenient for men and women alike. For instance, the design, incorporating a front cover and wide steps, made it difficult for the wind to lift up a woman's skirt.

The motorcycle's new image was "unlike anything that Americans had imagined before," Kawashima recalled. "It was that of a completely new vehicle; a motorcycle that simply didn't seem like one."

The Honda 50 was also reasonably priced at just $250, making it accessible to a youth market of college students who could buy with their savings or simple-interest loans. Thus, the bike became a viable means of transportation around campus.

American Honda's sales total for May 1961 surpassed the original goal of 1,000 per month. Kawashima, however, was beginning to sense that sales wouldn't grow significantly beyond that point if they continued marketing only through the existing dealerships. Accordingly, with the Super Cub acting as lead product in a new sales network, American Honda launched into a major ad campaign unlike any that the other manufacturers had attempted before. The company would appeal to the public with the message that the motorcycle was truly a popular product.

American Honda traveled places to give presentations on its business plan. It also ran help-wanted ads seeking enthusiastic individuals who wanted to join the motorcycle industry. American Honda did not only just try to expand its sales network, it endeavored to give the American motorcycle industry a shot in the arm. Further more, to make motorcycle shopping more casual and fun, American Honda arranged to have Super Cubs sold at sporting-goods stores and retailers of camping and outdoor equipment.

Eventually it was decided that ads would run in general-interest magazines covering the eleven Western states, and that they would not be limited to trade newspapers and motorcycle magazines. By running advertisements in first-class magazines such as LIFE, the leading American photojournal of the postwar era, Honda aimed to improve the motorcycle's image as a consumer product.

The ads featured bright, cheerful colors and photogra-phs, in considerable contrast to the now-tired image of the outlaw motorcycle. In fact, the word "motorcycle," with its negative connotations, was not used at all. Instead, the slogan "Nifty, Thrifty, Honda -Fifty'" was chosen as a means of appealing to the public's taste for fun, socially acceptable products.

"Running the ads required a considerable amount of money," recalled Kawashima. "I think a color page in LIFE magazine for eleven western states cost somewhere between $70,000 and $80,000. This was after the Honda 50 had started selling, so we decided to be a little bit daring."

The ad campaign worked, and the American version of Honda's Super Cub was a big success. To cope with the increase in customers and an increase in the large numbers of new contract dealers, the staff at American Honda began working to provide a full line of parts and improve its service system.

"Let's put aside the thought of making money with parts for the time being," thought Kawashima. "Let's just make sure we can provide complete afterservice for our customers. Let's not get a reputation for not having parts in stock or not being able to deliver parts in a timely manner." With that in mind American Honda began receiving all service parts via air shipments from Japan, after which the parts were sent to the dealers.
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<< Achieving a Breakthrough in America Photo >>
<< Building the Honda Sales Network
<< A Wind from the West, Blowing Across the American Landscape
<< Selling to America ... with Eight Employees
<< Problems with the Main Product
<< The Motorcycle as Popular Product
<< Changing the Image of an Entire Industry
<< Nicest People Campaign Causes a Sensation
<< Coping with a Sales Slump in the Mid-60s
<< Building a Network for Auto Sales
<< Satisfaction: Our Own Customers, Our Own Work
<< American Activities Take Root

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