"Quality Products have no International Boundaries"(1956)

Advertisements made for the new Super Cub. The Super Cub was like an embodiment of the "Three Joys," and it became a favorite of customers around the world following its debut in 1958. (Advertisements provided by Tokyo Graphic Designers Incorporation)

<< 1. In 1956, Messrs. Honda and Fujisawa traveled to Europe together....
<< 2. Development of the clutch mechanism started at the same time as engine development,...
<< 3. Underlying the Super Cub's success was the choice of 17-inch tires....
<< 4. Fujisawa again skillfully resorted to the direct mail strategy on the Super Cub....

Underlying the Super Cub's success was the choice of 17-inch tires. Tires of this size were simply not being produced at that time. Then what was the reason for choosing the 17-inch size? Driving stability, the ability to drive across rough road surfaces, comfortable riding height, and appropriate distance from foot to ground when stopping the bike were among the conditions taken into consideration. The result was the determination that this was the optimal tire size, and the decision was carried through Honda's affirmation. Harada recalled:

"The tire manufacturer didn't go along with it at first. After all, they would have been making 17-inch tires just for one Honda product model. It was the same story with the rim manufacturer. The result, though, is that they have been generously recompensed by the Super Cub's sales."

When April came, Honda began styling design of the body. The designer in charge of the Super Cub was a newcomer, Jozaburo Kimura. He had toured Honda's Shirako Plant the year before graduating from university, and been so impressed by the energy there that he joined the company.

"After all, it was practically like an ionizing reaction going on inside a beaker," Kimura said. "Everyone was crackling with energy as they worked. I felt as though I wanted to dive right into it. So I took the test, and when I passed, I took a leave from the university and started working at Honda in November 1956. This was just when the top secret 'Operation Special M' had begun. That was the Super Cub development project. I did on-the-job training for a while, and then I was working on styling design of turn signals for the Benly, when all of a sudden I was told, 'You're going to do styling design for Special M.' The entire company was working on development of this bike, and here they get a brand-new, wet-behind-the-ears kid to be the designer. This is a totally eccentric company. This is something the Old Man was often saying around then that made an impression on me: 'Make it something that fits in your hand!' At first I didn't understand what he meant. After a while, I figured out that what he meant was, he wanted to make motorcycles an intimate presence in people's lives, something that anyone could use without fuss or worry. In other words, this was making motorcycles into personal tools, universalizing them. Make them like the tools you use with your hands."

Kimura picked up the image that Honda wanted to convey, and threw himself into producing the design. His audience, however, was the "Modeling Chief," who would without any hesitation or apology go to work on one of his clay models, reshaping it as he pleased. Mr. Honda was especially strict about how they handled the design for the opening where the rider straddles the bike, or what the designers called the step-through, and made very demanding requests of the designers. The standard practice in European Mopeds was to place the fuel tank in the forward part of this straddling space, but Mr. Honda did not agree:

"This isn't a motorcycle that you ride from behind with your leg raised. This is a bike that you sit down on from the front. We want customers wearing skirts to buy this. Don't put the tank where it gets in the way."

Kimura was therefore pressed until he figured out a layout that placed the tank under the seat. Mr. Honda would whittle away at the step-through space on the clay model until the steel core showed through. He still was not satisfied, and would order Kimura to start over again.

Easy straddling became one of the major features of the Super Cub's styling, and the origin of this conception was in Mr. Honda's maxim, "Always make your products friendly."

The styling effort finally proceeded to creation of the final mockup eight months later, at the end of December. Honda said:

"This isn't a motorcycle. It isn't a scooter, either."

Indeed, this mockup, finished to look exactly like an actual product, showed a two-wheeled vehicle with a new form that had never existed before.

"The Old Man said, 'Call the Senior Managing Director,' and had me telephone the head office in Yaesu. Then Mr. Fujisawa showed up so soon that I wondered how he had gotten there so quickly. I was right there on the spot with them."

Taisuke Mori, another young designer who had joined the company in 1957, knew how hard Kimura had worked.

For about fifteen minutes, Honda eloquently enumerated the unprecedented features of this new product to Fujisawa.

"What happened next is exactly as people tell in that famous anecdote," said Mori. "The Old Man said to the Senior Managing Director, 'Well, what do you think? How many of these do you think we can sell?' Mr. Fujisawa's reply was, 'Maybe about 30,000.' Then I spoke up, without thinking what I was doing, and asked, 'Do you mean 30,000 units per year?' He said back to me, 'Don't be foolish. That's 30,000 per month!' I clearly remember how the Old Man, true to form, glared for an instant."

Harada was not present on that occasion, but he says:

"I was deliberately avoiding Mr. Fujisawa. I thought that if Mr. Fujisawa asked me to do something on the project, then I would have to do it. That would put me right in between him and the Old Man. I heard the story about the thirty thousand units a month right after Mr. Fujisawa had left. Well, this looked like being a pretty big deal. After all, this was when the aggregate number of units sold by all the motorcycle manufacturers in Japan was somewhere around forty thousand a month. When Mr. Fujisawa said that, he couldn't have had any solid basis for the confidence in that figure he named. I had the feeling that he was putting pressure on us by implying we had better be prepared, because the sales side was ready to sell that many."

Before this project had begun, Mr. Fujisawa, the man of sales, had made a certain request of Mr. Honda. Kihachiro Kawashima recollected:

"Mr. Fujisawa said to me, 'I asked the president, please give us a bike so attractive that the person sleeping next to you would say, okay, go ahead and buy it.' He meant a bike that a wife would allow her husband to buy. At that time, motorcycles still had a scary image among women. The engines stuck way out and made a lot of noise, and they seemed very crude. Mr. Fujisawa knew that the existing motorcycle market had its limits. He himself had no personal interest in motorcycles or automobiles. He did have a driver's license, but he only used it as a shoehorn," he said, laughing. "That meant he had an objective sense for motorcycles as a product from the perspective of people who didn't drive them. I also heard him say, 'This time, we'll have a bike that doesn't have its insides sticking out.' He meant it would be a bike that women would ride, too. Of course, this was before we even had an image of what it would actually look like."

Kawashima said:

"What was amazing about Mr. Fujisawa was that he gave Mr. Honda an appropriate market price for the Super Cub beforehand, while it was still being developed. Mr. Honda directed the development accordingly. However, with his engineer's conscience, he kept fixing things that he couldn't compromise on, so the cost would go up. But Mr. Fujisawa said that for this product, this should be the market price, and he set that price without paying any attention to the cost. I was certainly surprised. The retail price he set was ¥55,000. (This was at a time when black-and-white television sets typically cost ¥60,000-65,000.) If we sold only one thousand units a month, then we could barely expect to meet our costs. If we sold 30,000, however, that cost would be feasible. He asked that adjustments be made to meet this requirement, and then went ahead and set the retail price. Mr. Honda was also amazing, because he didn't give in, and said to us, 'Okay, then let's show him that we can do it.' After giving guidance to our plants and our parts suppliers, we ended up building a high precision bike with the top performance and durability for sale in the market at this price. Just as happened with our plants, many of our parts suppliers also started with motorcycle parts and then went on to become major automobile parts companies. Mr. Honda supported this growth, and he was the Number One person in the world of manufacturing. Mr. Fujisawa was a great contributor to the world of sales. I think that the motor vehicle industry in Japan owes a great deal to these two men."

The Super Cub was the first Honda product to utilize polyethylene on a large scale, from the front fenders on up. Harada recalled:

"Using polyethylene was a great adventure. It was a new material, and it was just starting to gain popularity in products like polyethylene buckets. There was no precedent at all for its use in the motor vehicle industry. We used it because the Old Man decided, 'Use it!' The riding performance of the Super Cub was raised that much higher because we had so many parts made of light polyethylene instead of heavy sheet steel. In the end, this material also turned out to be very effective in reducing our costs."

If Honda had followed tradition and made all those parts with steel, Harada says, the Super Cub might never have become such a success.

Ever since the failure of the Juno, Tsuchida's section had kept up their research interest in plastics. Now they went into action as the Chemical Section of the Chemical Division. Honda had been encouraging the members of this section from time to time, in an effort to keep their spirits up, as they were not blessed with many opportunities. Now, at first they ordered their polyethylene parts from Sekisui Chemical Co. Within a short time, however, they were able to set up an in-house production capability using injection molding, and they started out by making the Super Cub's tool box, battery box, and front fender. This was possible only because a scant four or five members had continued developing the technology even after the section had been temporarily disbanded when the Juno went out of production. The work done by Tsuchida and his colleagues eventually expanded into mass production of plastic parts at the Suzuka Factory, and it was to contribute to cost reductions in the Super Cub.

The naming of the product was accomplished very simply. The one who proposed it was Kimura, who remembers:

"Only the name remained to be settled. The word 'super' was in vogue around then, so I put 'super' in front of 'Cub' to make a logo using the Cub F-Type's special lettering style. When I showed it to the Old Man, he said, 'Okay, that's fine.' So it was named Super Cub. No particular incidents were involved. The only thing that got decided on the first try like that was the naming.

Development took the unusually long time, by Honda's standard, of approximately one year and eight months from inception. The Super Cub went on sale in August 1958."

Mr. Honda is said to have made the Super Cub entirely from the customer's perspective. From its engine and shape to its ease of riding, ease of use, durability, and economy, everything had "Put the customer satisfaction first." When Mr. Honda test rode the bike, he deliberately rode it through puddles in the road to check how the mud would splash up on him. Having been brought to completion in this way, it was as though the Super Cub itself was the Honda philosophy turned into a bike.
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