The Car That Continues to Evolve by Maintaining Harmony with the Times, People, and Society
At the S•E•D joint meeting and plan review, several components were identified in order to ensure comfortable cruising through enhanced interior convenience. This comfort equipment included an air conditioner integrated with the instrument panel, tailgate opener, decor-matched interior colors, and power steering. The team worked to minimize the cost of such equipment while maximizing its user-friendliness. The challenge was to think of these things from the users' perspective.
The Accord assembly line at Saitama Factory's Sayama Plant. The installation process of the engine was designed to ensure a better work environment and optimize efficiency.
In those days, air conditioners were commonly known in Japan as "coolers," a term that generally referred to a dedicated cooling device suspended from the instrument panel, separate from the heater. However, by integrating the air conditioner with the instrument panel, subtle temperature adjustments for heating and cooling would become possible. This integrated air conditioner offering a full range of functions was the first of its kind for a car of this class.
At the time, tailgate openers were found only on luxury cars. What prompted the team to install it on the 671 was the complaint a team member heard from a caddie at a golf course: "With a small car, you can't remove a golf bag without asking the customer to open the trunk with his key." However, the openers found on luxury models were electromagnetic, so they were fairly expensive to produce. To lower the cost, the team thought of applying the wire mechanism used for hood openers. They quickly built a prototype and tested it, verifying its smoothness of operation during opening and closing. Contrary to their early expectations, no heaviness was felt during operation because of complex wire routing. Pleased with the results, the team decided to use the wire-type opener, succeeding in furnishing the car with a tailgate opener, and an economical one at that.
Interior colors were rarely a consideration among car models available at that time. With the 671, though, consideration was given to this element of color coordination. After all, if the new car was to appeal to customers upgrading from the Civic, where the design elements were downplayed in favor of utility, the exposed surfaces of painted steel along the pillars and doors would have to be covered. Even the seatbelts, which were black in the Civic, would employ colors that matched the interior tones.
The instrument panel was another area of consideration, where the "cockpit" layout, known to generate a feeling of confinement, was abandoned. Instead, a more open, tray-type design (championed by the Civic) was adopted in order to enhance driver comfort.
As for power steering, which was still limited to large, luxury cars, the team studied its use following a comment by Soichiro Honda during a visit to Wako R&D Center that the steering felt "heavy."
The installation of power steering, however, turned out to be extremely difficult. Although a new power-steering system linked to vehicle speed had recently been developed at Honda R&D during the advance research process, the company had not designed a mass production car with a hydraulically controlled system or power steering. Naturally, there were concerns that the system would be prone to failure. There were also comments that power steering was unnecessary in a small car. Even members of the development staff were polarized by this issue.
"I was doubtful whether we should use power steering in a small car," said Kizawa. "But when I actually drove a car fitted with it, I was very impressed with the control it offered. In an FF car with a heavy front end, the power steering definitely improved handling. So, following the test drive I was convinced that power steering was an absolute must."
Having managed to obtain an agreement among the associated departments, Kizawa and his colleagues began developing their specifications for mass production. As development progressed, the initial concerns over quality gradually subsided. The relentless effort by the team had made them confident that the system would be very high in quality.
The Ministry of Transport laid down an unexpected roadblock, however, when it declined Honda's application for certification of the new model. Citing the danger of the power steering in a small car, it was claimed that such a system would lighten the steering beyond an acceptable degree. Kizawa visited officials at the Ministry of Transport in the hope of allaying their fears. When he could not convince them, though, he opted to set up a test drive on the test course of the Japan Automobile Research Institute located in Yatabe, Ibaragi Prefecture. The manager of the Examination Department at the Ministry was invited to this test.
"Once he test-drove the car," Kizawa recalled, "the manager was confident in its performance. He gave us the go-ahead right away, without driving even 100 meters."
Immediately upon its release, the Accord was very well received in Japan and overseas. It would be no exaggeration to say that a key reason behind it was this speed-sensitive power-steering system, which was a first for a car in that size category.
The 671 was introduced as a family of four models representing different grades: namely, the SL, GL, LX, and EX. Radial tires and a five-speed transmission were featured in the LX and EX luxury models, while power steering was found in the EX. Air conditioning was optional.
A new benchmark had been set for the auto industry in Japan, and consequently, more compact car lines began offering the power steering, air conditioner and other creature comforts made popular by the Accord. Today, these features are found even on mini cars.