Launch of the AP Lab


Honda R&D Center put together a ten-member Air Pollution Research Group in the summer of 1965, in accordance with its expectations regarding the future of automobile exports. Established by Shizuo Yagi, leader of the company’s Engine-performance Research Block, the new group consisted of members of Yagi’s own section. They began by collecting data on legal trends in America’s air pollution regulations. In September of that year, Kunpei Ito, of the Technical Research Lab, conducted a survey on air pollution caused by automobile emissions in Japan and the U.S. His work included studies on air-pollution regulations and how other automakers were dealing with the situation. He even educated research and design groups by holding a meeting to report his findings. It was at such a meeting that Tasku Date (then Honda R&D director), Yagi and Kazuo Nakagawa (then the Engineering Design Block’s chief engineer) agreed on the need to promote full-scale research into emissions control. From that point on, they used every available opportunity to persuade the company to open a laboratory for air pollution research.

Honda, though, had only recently emerged on the automotive scene, so the business at hand was to develop its next car. Moreover, in January 1964, the company announced that it would enter F-1 Racing. The company, it was explained, could not afford to waste time and human resources on air pollution research that would have no immediate result.

The Japan Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (JAMA) organized a committee in June 1966, for the purpose of touring the U.S. on a study of automobile emissions. Honda’s Yagi was one of the members. The tour lasted one month, with which the members visiting 23 research labs at GM, Ford, and Chrysler, as well as government agencies and universities. They studied the most current research on emissions and safety.

Since Date, Yagi, and Nakagawa had been advocating research into air pollution, they went to Hideo Sugiura, the general manager of the Research Center, and told him it was essential that they make the trip.

“All right, then,” said Sugiura. “Let’s do it.”

The Air Pollution Control Research Lab (AP Lab for short) was thus launched with a hastily assembled team of about thirty members. Even with the launch of the lab, the research engineers had to study the new field from scratch. Having pursued engine design from the perspective of high revolutions and output, the control of emissions seemed like an entirely different world.

“We had no answer as to what caused air pollution, back then,” Date recalled. “All we had was a device that measured carbon monoxide. We even had to ask what NOx and HC were, since in Japan there were no devices available to measure them. At first, we used something called a gas chromatograph to see the color reaction when exhaust gas drawn into a syringe was treated with chemical reagent. With this method, however, the engine condition would change while we were taking measurements. We simply were not able to apply our findings.”

The team at the AP Lab could only begin by researching measurement methods and devices. However, Soichiro Honda had high hopes for the AP Lab. “Honda Motor,” he said, “is the newest member of the auto industry. And this is a great opportunity to be at the starting line with our competitors.”
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