In 2017, the Super Cub series is scheduled to surpass a worldwide production milestone of 100 million units. And in 2018, Honda will be celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Super Cub’s debut. Here, we’d like to introduce the history and charms of the Super Cub, which has grown to become a perennial favorite around the world since its birth in 1958. First Moves on the World
Since its debut in 1958, the Super Cub has continued to enjoy strong growth in Japan and around the world. Initially, the Super Cub was not really considered to be a vital part of Honda’s first full-scale overseas expansion as the company set its sights on the massive market potential of the United States. However, it turned out that the Super Cub alone saved Honda from a desperate situation when its early efforts in developing the American market hit a wall.
First released in Japan in 1958, the Super Cub was produced by Takeo Fujisawa (1910 – 1988), Honda’s co-founder and chief executive in charge of management and marketing, while the leader of its development project was none other than founder and president Soichiro Honda (1906 – 1991), who remained at heart an engineer.
This carefully planned product was envisioned to be a “smart, fun and inexpensive motorcycle that can be easily ridden by anyone” and the resulting Super Cub fully realized this ideal, soon becoming a major hit. Sales reached 24,000 units only five months from the day of its release, a figure that quickly rose to nearly 167,000 Super Cubs in its second year, accounting for roughly 60% of Japan’s total motorcycle sales. In its third year, production skyrocketed to approximately 560,000 units as the Super Cub continued to exhibit an astounding level of popularity.
Needless to say, the Super Cub generated massive profits for Honda, as the dynamic management plan that Takeo Fujisawa had conceived at the time was truly a “Honda-esque” world strategy.
Soichiro Honda continually developed products with an eye to the signs of the times. Looking ahead to the future, Takeo Fujisawa ultimately decided on overseas expansion. Development and sales were always looking ahead while frequently taking the most difficult path. (Photo: 1973)
Soon, a decision was made to double investment and begin construction on a new Suzuka Factory to be outfitted with the latest equipment with a view to establishing Japan’s most advanced production facilities and solid quality control systems, and then immediately embarking on overseas expansion.
“Honda’s management cannot achieve stability if it depends entirely on the wildly fluctuating Japanese economy. Honda’s dream is to strive to be the best in the world by creating vehicles that make people’s lives more enjoyable. That’s why we must expand overseas.”
Basing his plans on this bold style of thinking, Takeo Fujisawa carried out an overseas market survey in 1956, two years before the Super Cub went on sale, and preparations were carefully put into place based on the assumption that the Super Cub would be a major hit.
The market survey concluded that “Europe is a major market with
sales of 2 million units per year, while Southeast Asia is currently
small but has great future potential. As for the United States, motorcycles are not so popular, with only about 60,000 units sold annually.”
In American society at the time, motorcycle riders were widely regarded as outlaws wearing black leather jackets. In other words, motorcycles didn’t have a very good reputation as modes of transport, which was why so few were sold per year.
However, upon analyzing this report, Takeo Fujisawa came to the conclusion that “America must come first.” But why make the United States the first target of Honda’s overseas advance? Why not focus on Europe, where annual sales already exceeded 2 million, or even the growing markets of Southeast Asia?
Takeo Fujisawa clearly recognized that the United States would be the most difficult market.In spite of expected difficulties,
However, Honda’s bold spirit dictated that the company take on the most difficult challenges first. It was the young company’s style at the time to take on the most difficult and seemingly reckless endeavors, akin to challenging the Isle of Man TT races or competing in World Grand Prix auto racing despite never having so much as won a race in Japan.
Moreover, there was always sound reasoning behind taking on such a seemingly foolhardy challenge. America’s population at the time was around 180 million, roughly twice that of Japan. After proving victorious in WWII and gaining global political and financial supremacy, the United States was the wealthiest country in the world from the 1950s through the 1960s. It was blessed with abundant food resources and energy; with new freeways being built all across the country, cars getting larger, and a whole slew of daily needs being addressed by new electrical products. Its citizens had quickly become pleasure-seeking consumers enjoying abundant lifestyles. However, it was also a country where the people still didn’t understand the fundamental joys that motorcycles could give life.
It was clear that if Honda could start selling motorcycles in the United States, which boasted the world’s greatest consumer capacity, then a massive market could be exploited. That is why Takeo Fujisawa decided that Honda should first try to conquer America. It would take an enormous effort to succeed there. However, the returns would be huge if they were successful.
Takeo Fujisawa was looking even further ahead toward the future. If the Honda brand could penetrate America through the sale of motorcycles, then general-purpose products would also sell, and a massive market could be acquired for its planned future production of automobiles. If a major advance could be made in the United States, it would then be possible to more directly understand the preferences of people in the world’s largest consumer society, making it possible to develop mobility products fine tuned for that market.