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.

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

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

1990 - 1999
  1. The Birth of Twin Ring Motegi / 1997The Birth of Twin Ring Motegi / 1997
  2. Entry to Champ Car Racing / 1994Entry to Champ Car Racing / 1994
  3. Odyssey / 1994Odyssey / 1994
  4. 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
  5. Hosting Hosting "Orei-no-kai" / 1991
  6. The NSX / 1990The NSX / 1990
1980 - 1989
  1. The VTEC Engine / 1989The VTEC Engine / 1989
  2. Honda EV Plus: The Dream of an Electric Vehicle / 1988Honda EV Plus: The Dream of an Electric Vehicle / 1988
  3. An Automated Line for Painting and Coating / 1988An Automated Line for Painting and Coating / 1988
  4. Four-Wheel Steering System (4WS) / 1987Four-Wheel Steering System (4WS) / 1987
  5. The Airbag System / 1987The Airbag System / 1987
  6. The ZE Engine (GX110 / 140 / 240 / 270 / 340 Series) / 1983The ZE Engine (GX110 / 140 / 240 / 270 / 340 Series) / 1983
  7. Formula One Entry / 1983Formula One Entry / 1983
  8. Development of Honda's Franz System Car / 1982Development of Honda's Franz System Car / 1982
  9. The World's Smallest Welding Line / 1982The World's Smallest Welding Line / 1982
  10. Transfer Lines for Modular Components / 1981Transfer Lines for Modular Components / 1981
  11. The Car Navigation System / 1981The Car Navigation System / 1981
  12. City / 1981City / 1981
  13. The F200 The F200 "Komame" Mini-Tiller / 1980
  14. Establishing Honda of America Manufacturing / 1980Establishing Honda of America Manufacturing / 1980
1970 - 1979
  1. The Oval Piston Engine / 1979The Oval Piston Engine / 1979
  2. Returning to the World Motorcycle Grand Prix / 1979Returning to the World Motorcycle Grand Prix / 1979
  3. The HR21 Lawn Mower / 1978The HR21 Lawn Mower / 1978
  4. Creating Hometown Forests / 1977Creating Hometown Forests / 1977
  5. The ME Engine (G100 / 150 / 200 / 300 / 400 Series) / 1977The ME Engine (G100 / 150 / 200 / 300 / 400 Series) / 1977
  6. Introducing the Accord / 1976Introducing the Accord / 1976
  7. CG125 / 1975CG125 / 1975
  8. Establishment of Honda Engineering / 1974Establishment of Honda Engineering / 1974
  9. Company Leaders Honda and Fujisawa Retire; Kawashima Assumes Presidency / 1973Company Leaders Honda and Fujisawa Retire; Kawashima Assumes Presidency / 1973
  10. Announcing the Civic / 1972Announcing the Civic / 1972
  11. Introducing the CVCC / 1972Introducing the CVCC / 1972
  12. Holding All Honda Idea Contests / 1970Holding All Honda Idea Contests / 1970
  13. Launching the Office of Safe Driving Promotional Operations / 1970Launching the Office of Safe Driving Promotional Operations / 1970
1960 - 1969
  1. The Dream CB750 FOUR / 1969The Dream CB750 FOUR / 1969
  2. Launching the Honda 1300 / 1968Launching the Honda 1300 / 1968
  3. The Hondamatic Transmission / 1968The Hondamatic Transmission / 1968
  4. Entering the Auto Market at Last / 1966Entering the Auto Market at Last / 1966
  5. The E300 Portable Generator / 1965The E300 Portable Generator / 1965
  6. Formula One Entry / 1964Formula One Entry / 1964
  7. Kyoto: Celebrating the Company's 15th Anniversary / 1963Kyoto: Celebrating the Company's 15th Anniversary / 1963
  8. Establishing Belgium Honda / 1963Establishing Belgium Honda / 1963
  9. Launching the S360 and T360 / 1962Launching the S360 and T360 / 1962
  10. Employing the Employing the "My Record" Project and Expert Certification / 1960
  11. The R&D Center Goes Independent / 1960The R&D Center Goes Independent / 1960
1950 - 1959
  1. Establishing American Honda Motor Co. / 1959Establishing American Honda Motor Co. / 1959

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