Determination and Passion: A Car that Fulfills the Creative Lifestyle
Kunimichi Odagaki, then a chief engineer (CE) at the R&D Center was stationed at Sayama Factory to assist the launch of the 1991 Legend where he received a phone call in August 1990. The center wished to develop a roomy new car for the U.S. market. Specifically, they told him to establish a new plant in the U.S. to develop a new large-size minivan; one powered by the V6 engine from the upscale Acura Legend. The plan reflected a strong desire by Koichi Amemiya, president of American Honda, to set a new standard for that growing segment of the American market.
The Odyssey S 4WD model (with power sunroof) released in October 1994
Odagaki went to work immediately, assembling a team of twenty to develop the project. As LPL of the development project, Odagaki flew to the U.S. in September 1990 with five or six of his team members. For the next month, they conducted an intensive review of existing minivan competitors in the U.S.
"It was a time in which American consumers were changing their minds," Odagaki recalled. "Rather than wanting more luxurious cars, they began looking for models that could more easily accommodate specific uses. We couldn’t have agreed more with that idea, and were strongly convinced that Honda had to develop its own minivan."
The minivans that were sold in the U.S. during that period generally cost around $20,000, but Honda’s proposed model was to be considerably more expensive than that. Including the costs of building a new plant and installing the Legend V6 engine, the anticipated retail price was as much as $30,000. Therefore, the four-cylinder power plant from the Accord was considered as a more affordable alternative. However, just as the team had shifted into top gear, the management canceled the minivan development project.
Odagaki called the representatives of automotive development (RAD) at the head office, pleading with him to reconsider. "I understand this is an order," he said, "but I don’t think we should cancel the project." He was determined to create a car that would answer the demand for a high-quality, supremely functional minivan for the American market. However, even after 40 minutes on the telephone, Odagaki had not succeeded in convincing the RAD.
Odagaki’s team members felt strongly that the project should be continued. For one thing, they had seen with their own eyes the explosive growth of this new market segment. Moreover, they believed that Japan would be the next step in the growth of this new culture.
The team quietly began its own "underground" development effort at the end of that year, working outside the realm of official duty. In the face of numerous difficulties, though, their only hope was the fact that the company president, executive director in charge of product, and the top management at the R&D Center had tacitly approved the continuation of this project.
The team members visited recreational sites and sporting sites across a considerable range of market territory, interviewing minivan owners and observing how the vehicles were used.
"We wanted to know precisely what the customer wanted," said Odagaki. "Only after understanding their needs could we create a value that no other car provided; the kind of value that would win the customer’s heart. We took it upon ourselves to answer that challenge."