The Hondamatic Transmission / 1968

The Innovative Automatic Transmission: A Breakthrough in Original Thinking

The Hondamatic Transmission / 1968

The Army of Patents: A Barrier to the Popularization of AT Cars

The emergence of the automatic transmission (AT) was a motivating factor in the expansion of America’s car culture during the 1960s. Since it relieved the driver of the inconvenience of operating three pedals with two feet, just about anyone could drive a car with ease. Thanks to this new technology and an ever-growing network of roads, the automobile rocketed to new heights of popularity.

Photo

The transmission and engine of the N360AT, the first mini car equipped with a fully automatic transmission

Major luxury brands such as Lincoln, Cadillac, and Chrysler had moved to automatic transmissions by the late 1960s, and even the midprice models from Chevrolet and Ford were increasingly equipped with ATs. In fact, the penetration of AT cars approached the 80 percent mark.

The scene was completely different in Japan, however, where the automobile was just beginning to evolve as a part of daily life. In fact, the penetration of AT cars was still less than 10 percent. Automobiles were still quite expensive, and only a limited number of models adopted the AT system, since it tended to push prices even higher.

The relatively small displacements of domestic Japanese models also helped prevent manufacturers from developing AT products. In any car, a portion of the energy generated by the engine is lost as the drive force is transmitted to the wheels. The earlier automatic transmissions had not been very efficient, resulting in considerable losses of energy. For that reason it was considered difficult, if not impossible, to achieve sufficient dynamic performance from an engine of less than 1500 cc. Thus, while the larger, higher-displacement American models could certainly accommodate automatic transmissions, they simply weren’t practical for use in compact automobiles and mini cars. Accordingly, the typical Japanese consumer perceived the AT car as being "expensive and something that doesn’t drive well."

Honda had only begun making automobiles during this period, so naturally there was no AT product in the pipeline. Still endeavoring to get on-track with the car business, the company didn’t have the spare resources it could divert to the development of AT models. Moreover, there was no reason to introduce AT systems. After all, Honda didn’t yet offer a passenger car model.

The tide had turned from manual transmissions to automatics in the U.S., however, so inevitably the trend would be reflected across the Pacific. Still, any car company that decided to develop an AT model would invariably hit the same wall. As was to be expected, patents were pending or in place for just about every single aspect of AT technology.

Moreover, the majority of those patents, estimated at between 40,000 and 50,000, were in the possession of the U.S. firm Borg Warner (BW). Accordingly, Japanese automobile manufacturers were soon forced to enter into partnership agreements with BW or set up joint ventures in order to avoid the liabilities of patent infringements.

Interest in AT technology was also growing at Honda, where development of the N360 mini car was under way.

The Challenging Spirit of Honda

A System that Fosters Expertise
  1. A System that Fosters ExpertiseA System that Fosters Expertise
  2. The R&D Center Goes Independent / 1960The R&D Center Goes Independent / 1960
  3. Employing the "My Record" Project and Expert Certification  / 1960Employing the "My Record" Project and Expert Certification / 1960
A Dream Come True: Car Builder for the World
  1. A Dream Come True: Car Builder for the WorldA Dream Come True: Car Builder for the World
  2. Launching the S360 and T360 / 1962Launching the S360 and T360 / 1962
  3. Entering the Auto Market at Last / 1966Entering the Auto Market at Last / 1966
  4. Introducing N360 / 1967Introducing N360 / 1967
  5. Launching the Honda 1300 / 1968Launching the Honda 1300 / 1968
  6. Introducing the CVCC / 1972Introducing the CVCC / 1972
  7. Announcing the Civic / 1972Announcing the Civic / 1972
  8. Introducing the Accord / 1976Introducing the Accord / 1976
Marketing Globally, Producing Lacally
  1. Marketing Globally, Producing LocallyMarketing Globally, Producing Locally
  2. Establishing American Honda Motor Co. / 1959Establishing American Honda Motor Co. / 1959
  3. Establishing Belgium Honda / 1963Establishing Belgium Honda / 1963
  4. Establishing Honda of America Manufacturing / 1980Establishing Honda of America Manufacturing / 1980
A Refreshing New Development
  1. A Refreshing New DevelopmentA Refreshing New Development
Products Emerging From Technology and Innovation
  1. Products Emerging From Technology and InnovationProducts Emerging From Technology and Innovation
  2. The Oval Piston Engine / 1979The Oval Piston Engine / 1979
  3. The Hondamatic Transmission / 1968The Hondamatic Transmission / 1968
  4. The Car Navigation System / 1981The Car Navigation System / 1981
  5. The Airbag System / 1987The Airbag System / 1987
  6. Four-Wheel Steering System (4WS) / 1987Four-Wheel Steering System (4WS) / 1987
  7. The VTEC Engine / 1989The VTEC Engine / 1989
  8. The ME Engine (G100 / 150 / 200 / 300 / 400 Series) / 1977The ME Engine (G100 / 150 / 200 / 300 / 400 Series) / 1977
  9. The ZE Engine (GX110 / 140 / 240 / 270 / 340 Series) / 1983The ZE Engine (GX110 / 140 / 240 / 270 / 340 Series) / 1983
  10. The Dream CB750 FOUR / 1969The Dream CB750 FOUR / 1969
  11. CG125 / 1975CG125 / 1975
  12. Road Pal / 1976Road Pal / 1976
  13. City / 1981City / 1981
  14. The NSX / 1990The NSX / 1990
  15. Odyssey / 1994Odyssey / 1994
  16. Honda EV Plus: The Dream of an Electric Vehicle / 1988Honda EV Plus: The Dream of an Electric Vehicle / 1988
  17. The E300 Portable Generator / 1965The E300 Portable Generator / 1965
  18. The HR21 Lawn Mower / 1978The HR21 Lawn Mower / 1978
  19. The F200 "Komame" Mini-Tiller / 1980The F200 "Komame" Mini-Tiller / 1980
Production Technology: The Essence of Creative Manufacturing
  1. Production Technology: The Essence of Creative ManufaturingProduction Technology: The Essence of Creative Manufaturing
  2. Establishment of Honda Engineering / 1974Establishment of Honda Engineering / 1974
  3. The World's Smallest Welding Line / 1982The World's Smallest Welding Line / 1982
  4. Transfer Lines for Modular Components / 1981Transfer Lines for Modular Components / 1981
  5. An Automated Line for Painting and Coating / 1988An Automated Line for Painting and Coating / 1988
A Neverending Passion for Racing
  1. A Neverending Passion for RacingA Neverending Passion for Racing
  2. Completion of Suzuka Circuit / 1962Completion of Suzuka Circuit / 1962
  3. Returning to the World Motorcycle Grand Prix / 1979Returning to the World Motorcycle Grand Prix / 1979
  4. Formula One Entry: The Initial Phase / 1964Formula One Entry: The Initial Phase / 1964
  5. Formula One Entry: The Second Phase / 1983Formula One Entry: The Second Phase / 1983
  6. Entry to Champ Car Racing / 1994Entry to Champ Car Racing / 1994
  7. The Birth of Twin Ring Motegi / 1997The Birth of Twin Ring Motegi / 1997
Creativity - The Way to Work Harder, Play Harder
  1. Creativity – The Way to Work Harder, Play Harder Creativity – The Way to Work Harder, Play Harder
  2. Holding All Honda Idea Contests / 1970Holding All Honda Idea Contests / 1970
People and Society Coexisting in Harmony with Nature
  1. People and Society Coexisting in Harmony with NaturePeople and Society Coexisting in Harmony with Nature
  2. Establishment of Honda Taiyo, Kibo-no-Sato Honda and Honda R&D Taiyo / 1992Establishment of Honda Taiyo, Kibo-no-Sato Honda and Honda R&D Taiyo / 1992
  3. Creating Hometown Forests / 1977Creating Hometown Forests / 1977
  4. Hosting "Orei-no-kai" / 1991Hosting "Orei-no-kai" / 1991

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