Promoting Entry into the Car Business

Saitama Factory’s main assembly line churned out T360s at the rate of one every ten minutes

<< 1. The Concept of a “People’s Car”
<< 2. Third Research Section: A Starting Point for Product Development
<< 3. Building an Industry through Open Competition
<< 4. Nothing Is Impossible
<< 5. Promoting Entry into the Car Business
<< 6. Production Encompassing Every Factory
<< 7. Building Honda’s First Dedicated Auto Plant

The 11th National Honda Meeting General Assembly was held on June 5, 1962, at the soon-to-be-completed Suzuka Circuit. Product displays and test drives were also carried out on that date, with the S360 Honda Sports taking to the track with Mr. Honda behind the wheel. Beaming as he went, Mr. Honda blasted past the crowd that had assembled in the main bleachers. In the passenger’s seat, they could also see the face of Yoshio Nakamura, manager of the development project. This was Honda’s maiden voyage into the fiercely competitive waters of the automotive business. Yet, that endeavor, for all its challenges and difficulties, symbolized the pursuit of Mr. Honda’s lifelong dream.

The S360’s thrilling entrance was indeed impressive to the representatives of Honda’s franchised dealers who had gathered at Suzuka. They, after all, had strongly suggested that Honda manufacture cars. They wanted to have products they could sell during the winter months, when motorcycle sales experienced a significant decline.

The 9th Japan National Auto Show, a thirteen-day event, was held at the International Trade Center at Tokyo’s Harumi Wharf starting on October 25, 1962. Record crowds totaling over a million attended the show, amply demonstrating that the nation was ready to take on the car culture. There was Honda, proudly displaying its three new models: the S360 and S500 Honda Sports series, and the T360 mini truck. The company’s booth attracted throngs of people, sending a wave of anticipation across Japan and the world.

Honda had to act swiftly, now that the new models were out. What’s more, a record showing the sufficient production of cars had to be prepared before the passage of the MITI bill on specified industries.

June 1963 saw a massive Honda sales campaign, which featured a high-impact advertisement in the country’s leading newspapers. The ad offered prizes to those who could correctly guess the price of the new Honda Sports 500. More than 5.7 million entries (the record for an ad of that type) were received. The price of ¥459,000 was subsequently announced in July, just a month after the ad had run. Surprisingly, that figure was much less than other makers were charging for comparable models. The T360 mini truck went on sale in August 1963, and the S500 sports car hit the market in October.

Despite a very favorable reception at both the Honda Meeting and the Tokyo Motor Show, the S360 unfortunately never made it to the market. Fujio Ishikawa, who was involved in the car’s body design at Hamamatsu Factory’s Welding Section, offered this explanation:

When we were working on the car based on a 360 cc engine, the management told us to make the body wider to accommodate a 500 cc engine. Since there was only a limited demand for sports cars among the Japanese, it was suggested that we design a car that could be marketed around the world. I think Mr. Honda had been thinking globally from the very start.

A short time later, Kawamura got a call from Yoshio Nakamura, who was attending a planning meeting. Kawamura was told they wanted to widen the body by around 10 centimeters, and was asked whether the existing design could accommodate that degree of change. Kawamura told them the external appearance would not be affected if the extra width were accommodated around the center line. Therefore, Nakamura requested that the length be extended as well, saying the rear should increase by 30 centimeters.

The meeting resulted in Honda’s decision to focus on 360-cc mini trucks and 500 cc compact sports cars. This strategy was designed to qualify Honda as a manufacturer of micro-cars and passenger cars in time for the anticipated passage of the Specified Industry Promotion Bill. Moreover, the emphasis on small cars reflected the company’s intention to enter the world market.

The basic MITI policy regarding Japan’s car industry was compiled into the Temporary Measures Bill for the Promotion of Specified Industries in March 1963, and was submitted to the 43rd Session of the National Diet. However, the session was adjourned in July without a resolution. The bill was resubmitted to the 46th session starting in January 1964, but did not pass. The bill was eventually abandoned without anyone really knowing its ultimate destiny.
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