The Concept that Overcame the Adversity

<< 1. Developing a Car with a Roomy Interior
<< 2. Target Concept: A Personal Jet
<< 3. A Decision by Sayama Plant
<< 4. One Car, Two Visions: Sales Versus Engineering
<< 5. The Concept that Overcame the Adversity
<< 6. A Simultaneous Launching through Three Sales Channels and the Challenge of Increased Production
<< 7. Beginning a New Odyssey in North America

The team also faced many difficulties at the R&D Center. For example, while Odagaki was away on a business trip, he was informed that some team members had been told to work on urgent drawings for another project, so upon his return he had to fight hard with the manager of that project in order to get his men back. Since what they were developing was not an approved product model, there were many hurdles to clear.

Fortunately, there were supporters as well, including Michiyoshi Hagino, senior managing director of the R&D Center. “First let’s create a running prototype,” he said. “Then they’ll understand the benefits of this car. But for the time being, the team members must continue to work on the project unofficially.”

Accordingly, Odagaki asked Takefumi Hiramatsu, managing director in charge of development operations, to commit twenty employees to prototype development, on the condition that no new processes would be added. His request was approved on April 16, 1991.

The prototype created by the twenty-member team had a graceful bodyline embellished by motorcycle headlights and the Acty’s tail lamps. The steering wheel was positioned on the right, because the company’s prime focus at the time was to improve its automobile sales in Japan. Thus, the team began its effort to convince the Sales Division using this running prototype.

“If we try,” they argued, “we can develop a car that drives like a sedan but offers much more interior space. But we really should introduce the U.S. minivan culture to Japan. This car will become a powerful weapon in increasing our sales domestically.”

Gradually, support for the Odyssey increased. However, Domestic Sales remained hesitant about giving its endorsement. The team decided to bring the prototype to the U.S. and sell it to American Honda. The initial order Odagaki had been given in August, 1991 was to develop a new car: a minivan for the American market. However, even though the prototype was smaller than had originally been envisioned, he was confident that it would be accepted in the U.S.

A test drive was held in Los Angeles the evening of January 10, 1992. Amemiya, who came to the test drive, saw the steering wheel on the right side and immediately said, “This team can’t be serious. They’re thinking about the Japanese market.”

Still, the team managed to convince Amemiya to drive the car. Odagaki, sitting next to him, described the hardships that he and his team had thus far endured.

“The project would have been scrapped by then if we hadn’t built the prototype with a right-hand design,” Odagaki told Amemiya. “Regardless of the steering wheel’s location, I honestly believe this car will be a strong asset for your operations in the U.S. We really need your support.”

Some time after the development team had returned from the U.S., they received good news. American Honda had offered a plan to sell 5,000 units per month. Still, a “go” sign by Japanese Sales had yet to be obtained. However, the endorsement by American Honda, which was responsible for selling large quantities of product, ensured that the Odyssey project would finally move forward.

“I really didn’t think we could develop a great product if everything went too smoothly,” Odagaki said of that period. “In our case, the team members had a clear idea as to what we should create. But we also knew how to fight. Because of that vision, and perhaps helped along by the current trend, we were able to overcome adversity.”
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