Crossing Boundaries to International Production
Despite having conquered a number of obstacles before and after the factory's opening - including a ferocious cold wave and differences in corporate culture, language and tradition - more problems lay ahead for Belgium Honda in its effort to get on a path to full-scale production.
The factory's September 1963 opening ceremony was arranged so that it would coincide with the first anniversary of Belgium Honda's founding. Soichiro Honda flew in from Japan to share the joy with his local associates.
(Photos courtesy of Mr. Hideo Iwamura and Mr. Ryoji Matsui.)
The most troublesome of these was the fact that the company's new moped (Type C310), which they'd worked so hard to create and market, simply was not meeting their sales expectations.
Moreover, problems began to occur with the customers' products soon after the startup of the new sales network. Increasingly, products were being returned to the factory with user complaints attached.
The C310 moped had not been designed and developed as a specific response to local market demands. Actually, it was a remodeled version of an existing product, put together after it was decided that Belgium Honda was to be established. Therefore, only a limited amount of time could be devoted to meeting the moped regulations stipulated by European nations. There was a greater need to concentrate on the factory's opening.
The C310 was a remodeled version of the Super Cub, a product that had achieved monumental success in Japan and the U.S. In the moped configuration, though, the power of the Super Cub's four-stroke engine was cut back so as not to exceed the maximum speed of 40 kilometers per hour. As with other mopeds in Europe, pedals were also added to the product. The Honda version, however, was larger and heavier than the two-stroke mopeds then so common in Europe. To the local public, the Honda moped looked more like a motorcycle than a moped.
Honda's moped was marketed based on the assumption that Europeans, who were generally taller and more heavily built, would embrace it. However, the C310 never managed to capture the hearts of local riders.
In fact, many problems arose, including those in which users employed a mixture of gasoline and oil in the four-stroke engines, just as they did with their European mopeds. So, despite the enormous effort to convince dealers and customers that the four-cycle engine was superior in all respects, and having provided thorough instructions on how to service the vehicles, the sales increase that Honda wanted simply did not appear.
Company funds were dwindling, too, and this prevented Honda from obtaining fully qualified parts. The situation at Belgium Honda began to deteriorate, with many other factors coming into play. Soon it seemed that the factory would have to close.