The Car That Continues to Evolve by Maintaining Harmony with the Times, People, and Society
Hiroshi Kizawa, a chief research engineer at Honda R&D, was in September 1974 suddenly told to return to Japan from the U.S., where he had been stationed to help transfer Honda's CVCC technology to Ford. Actually, he had been assigned that post because of his experience as manager of the Civic development project.
Kizawa, upon his return to Japan, received an official order from the Board of Directors at Honda R&D to develop a car one class above the Civic; a model that would be the logical step for Civic owners wanting to upgrade. Hence, a project to develop an upscale version of the Civic began, with Kizawa acting as development manager. Given the development code "671," the car was to answer two requirements.
First goal was to ensure comfortable cruising at 130 km/h. "At the time, every new car was being developed for exportation to the U.S. and Europe," said Kizawa. "However, Japanese cars still had high noise levels of around 70 dB at 100 km/h. To make the 671 a world-class car, we decided to reduce the noise level to 70 dB at 130 km/h." Assuming the local driving patterns of the U.S. and Europe, the team again set its sights on a quiet ride, this time emphasizing low noise levels during high-speed cruising.
The second requirement was to make full use of the Civic's parts. Honda had already invested heavily in the Civic and CVCC engine, and was not in a position to invest additional funds toward the development of another model. Hence, the company had to carry out its development with minimal investment. Specifically, it had to promote the use of existing facilities, including the engine plant and as many of the Civic's parts as possible.
The car also had to offer sufficient visual appeal and interior comfort in order to merit its presentation as a higher-class expression of the Civic. For the development staff, this represented a true dilemma.
In the hope of enhancing its product development, Honda had earnestly begun the implementation of a new S•E•D system. It was intended that the new system would involve the Sales, Production Engineering, and Development departments in the product-development process, thereby promoting the exchange of ideas with various perspectives. An original system of product development, the S•E•D system emerged from a speech given by Kiyoshi Kawashima on the occasion of his appointment as president of Honda R&D, in which he asked the company’s board to "think of ways we can work effectively so that 100 ordinary persons can produce achievements on the level of one genius, Soichiro Honda."
The new system dictated that each product development be promoted by a joint project team comprising personnel from various departments in the areas of sales (Sales), production and production engineering (Engineering), and product development (Development). Its purpose was to allow the team members to discuss matters from the standpoint of their respective positions and experience, and to integrate all three aspects into development.
A basic concept for the new model was thus established, according to the two chief requirements. That concept described "a compact car that is easy to use and has a stylish, sporty look." It reflected the image of an ideal car; one that the development staff would want for themselves. They now had a concept, but first the team had to determine the priority of body styling. In other words, they had to determine whether development would begin with a four-door sedan or three-door hatchback.
Looking at both domestic and overseas market studies, the team found there were too many compact sedans in the Japanese market, while the demand for four-door sedans was small in the U.S. compact car segment which was comprised of models displacing 2000 cc or less. Moreover, the team looked at the success of the Civic, whose unique three-door hatchback style had been well received at home and in the U.S. With that, they reasoned that the hatchback design could duly satisfy the three key conditions of "roominess, stylish design, and excellent running performance." Thus, they decided to start with the three-door hatchback.
The design of the body was then to proceed with formal adoption of the free-competition approach, meaning the concurrent pursuit of competing projects. After all, it was a system that had already proved itself in the development of the Civic. Accordingly, the team was split into two groups, each of which was to function independently and competitively. It was their firm belief that such a system would produce more effective results.
Following a period of study, the first group proposed a sleek, invigorating design featuring a great expanse of glass and a low overall height. Actually, the look they were after was significantly influenced by the Lotus Elite, a British sports car. The second group suggested a more orthodox, two-door coupe design, the novelty of which was a set of flowing contours reminiscent of a speeding bullet. Of the two proposals, the team chose that of the first group, based on its striking good looks, apparent agility, and breakaway styling. Their next step was to take this basic design to the next level of refinement.
A sketch of the first-generation Accord, featuring a sleek design and extensive glass area