The Passion of Honda Development in a Tangible Form
A new development project got under way at the Wako R&D Center in the summer of 1970, a year after the Honda 1300 (H1300) was released.
Japan was then in the midst of explosive fiscal growth, achieving a rate of over 10 percent annually. Consumers, though, were beginning to demand more diversity in the products they could buy.
The Civic was designed to satisfy markets around the world. The car blended beautifully in city scenes, moving swiftly through busy traffic.
The nation’s infrastructure, also, was undergoing change. Since Japan was increasingly the host of such international mega-events as the Olympic Games and the World Exposition, it was necessary to demonstrate that this society was fully modern, with all the automotive accoutrements one would expect. Thus, Japan had struggled mightily to transform its transportation industry, and, consequently, car production leaped into second place, right behind the U.S.
Despite all that prosperity, Honda found itself struggling to survive allegations of defects in the N360. Sales of the H1300 were low, as well, prompting serious discussions as to what should be done.
"Go to Suzuka and see the line," Masami Suzuki, then the general manager of the R&D Center, told key project members prior to the official start of a new model development project. Yet, Shinya Iwakura, on assignment as a designer, did not quite understand.
"Why does he want us to go?" he wondered. "I only know that the H1300 currently produced at the Suzuka Factory isn’t selling well." When the project members actually saw the line at Suzuka, though, they turned white with shock.
"There were only a few H1300s scattered along the line," Iwakura recalled. "We were stunned by such a harsh reality." The others couldn’t hide their surprise, either. On their way back to Wako, the team members felt an overwhelming sense of pressure, which of course told them there was an impending crisis. Said Hiroshi Kizawa, who was engaged in Civic development as LPL, "We all believed that if the project failed Honda would have to give up its plan of becoming a full-fledged carmaker." Reflected in the gravity of that outlook was the series of failures Honda had experienced with its current cars, which threatened the company’s financial standing. Therefore, when the assignment came following their trip to Suzuka, the team members knew it would require a major effort.
"Give me a report," instructed Suzuki, "detailing the kind of car we should develop for the Japanese market and other markets around the world."