Determination and Passion: A Car that Fulfills the Creative Lifestyle
The Odyssey, having overcome numerous obstacles, was finally launched on October 20, 1994. At the official ceremony, Odagaki described the vehicle’s development background. When he came to the passage, "...it was because the team members...," he could no longer hold back his tears.
The Odyssey’s line-off ceremony held on October 3, 1994, at Saitama Factory’s Sayama Plant, was attended by representatives from business partners and dealers, along with numerous associates. There was an atmosphere of celebration surrounding the launch of Honda’s new minivan.
The Odyssey became the first Honda model in Company history to be released simultaneously through all three distribution channels (Primo, Clio, Verno). Because it was a utility vehicle - albeit one in a completely new category - the company decided to market the Odyssey through different channels under the same name to drive market penetration.
Contrary to the company’s initial assessment, the Odyssey was met with an enthusiastic reception among journalists and customers. In fact, the car received two of the most coveted industry awards in its first year, the Japan Car of the Year Award (Special Category) and the RJC New Car of the Year Award. By the end of September 1997, 36 months after its release, the Odyssey had sold more than 300,000 units, breaking the Civic’s record to become Honda’s fastest-selling new car.
"When we first started developing the Odyssey," Sekine recalled, "there was criticism that we could only copy models from other manufacturers. But I believe the market accepted our development concept, which was essentially based on the user’s point of view. So, this project showed us how important it was to approach every design from the customer’s perspective."
The Odyssey’s initial production volume was 341 units per day, but soon after its launch, sales had not picked up, and the line’s rate of output was still low. Therefore, Sekine postponed further investment in improvements, promising that the company would spend the money when it was warranted by market conditions and the required volume. He also proposed a cut in the production line’s capacity from 1,100 units down to 1,050 per day.
Eventually, sales began to grow, resulting in several production-volume increases. As promised, Sekine implemented the investment for improvements. However, the factory’s young employees were the motivating force behind such expenditures, in that they identified each area of improvement and tackled problems based on the Honda’s principle of "focusing on real-world, on-site operations while facing up to the challenges inherent in reaching their goal." Their effort brought about a dramatic increase in production volume, yet with maximized use of a relatively minimal investment.
"When we reviewed the process of increasing production volume," Sekine said, "we found many areas in need of improvement. These problems were solved by the employees themselves. The process of voluntary reform, in which the improvement of each process was left to those in charge of the process, caused each and every employee to cultivate a critical mind and share in that sense of achievement."