"On This Day" In Engineering History Blog

"On This Day" In Engineering History

Tune in to find out about significant engineering events that took place "on this day".

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September 24, 1958 – Happy Birthday, Honda (Part 2)

Posted September 24, 2008 5:10 PM by Steve Melito

On this day in engineering history, Soichiro Honda founded the Honda Motor Company, a Japanese motorcycle manufacturer that would one day become the world's largest builder of engines. After introducing its first automobile in 1963, the Tokyo-based car company developed a series of compact cars during the 1970s.

The first such vehicle to reach the shores of the United States, the N600, failed to capture the interest of American consumers. In the wake of the Arab oil embargo and the oil crisis of 1973, however, a fuel-efficient vehicle named the Honda Civic began to enjoy a measure of success. During the decade-long energy crisis that followed, roomier versions of the Civic gave Detroit's Big Three automakers a run for their money - and stole some of their market share.

Civic Duty

In July of 1972, the Honda Motor Company replaced its so-called Kei Cars with the first Honda Civic. Equipped with a four-cylinder 1160-cc engine, this compact car featured front power disc brakes, reclining vinyl bucket seats, and an AM radio. A year later, Honda announced that its compound vortex-controlled combustion engine (CVCC) met the requirements of the 1970 Clean Air Act, landmark legislation that required a 90% reduction in emissions from new automobiles sold in the United States by 1975. While other car makers were forced to design and build emission-reducing catalytic converters, Honda just dropped its latest CVCC engine, the ED1, into the 1975 Honda Civic.

Two years later, the Japanese automaker announced that the Civic ranked first in U.S. fuel economy tests for the fourth year in a row. While other automakers struggled to design fuel-efficient cars of their own, Honda introduced its Prelude. Fitted with a four-cylinder, 1751-cc CVCC that provided 72-hp at 4,500-rpm, the first Honda Prelude was available with either a two-speed automatic transmission or a five-speed manual transmission. The Prelude's leather seats and electronic sunroof may have appealed to some car buyers, but fuel economy remained paramount as the 1979 Iranian Revolution roiled the world's petroleum markets.

Motocross and Market Share

During the 1980s, the Honda Motor Company won the 500-cc Motocross World Championship and returned to Formula One (F1) racing. The Japanese automaker also expanded its American manufacturing operations and U.S. market share. Since 1976, Honda had been building a mid-range sedan called the Accord. In 1982, the car company achieved an historic "first" when the Honda Accord became the first Japanese automobile to be built in the United States. Just three years after the first American-built Accord rolled off Honda's assembly line in Ohio, the Marysville Auto Plant (MAP) added a second assembly line.

The 1980s also marked the introduction of Honda's first luxury automobile - the Acura. Designed for car buyers in Hong Kong and North America, the first Honda Acura was available in two models: the Legend, a powerful V-6 sedan; and the Integra, a sedan or hatchback with front-wheel drive. Ultimately, the success of the Acura led Toyota to develop the Lexus and Nissan to build the Infiniti.

The End and the Beginning

During the last decade of the twentieth century, the Honda Motor Company continued to innovate with variable valve timing and lift electronic control (VTEC). VTEC, a valve train that was designed to improve the volumetric efficiency of Honda's four-stroke internal combustion engine, incorporates two camshaft profiles and selects one of them electronically. Developed by Honda engineer Ikuo Kajitani, VTEC is a direct descendant of revolution-modulated valve control (REV), which was introduced on some Honda motorcycles in 1983.

Today, the Honda Motor Company is still the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer, and the biggest builder of internal combustion engines. The automaker's products include fuel-sipping hybrids and sturdy sports utility vehicles (SUVs), spacious sedans and family-friendly mini-vans, and benchmark cars such as the Civic and the Accord. While other automakers struggle to retool their factories in order to meet consumer demand for fuel-efficient vehicles, the 2009 Civic Hybrid gets 45 mpg.

Editor's Note: Click here for Part 1 of this two-part series.











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Re: September 24, 1958 – Happy Birthday, Honda (Part 2)

09/24/2008 6:07 PM

Congrats to Honda! Very interesting story. It is slightly ironic that the first sample of the Honda breed was rejected and then pleasantly embraced years later.

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Re: September 24, 1958 – Happy Birthday, Honda (Part 2)

09/25/2008 9:12 AM

Thanks, Jaxy. The Honda Civic's commercial success had as much to do with external events as with engineering achievements. So, I've tried to tell the story in a way that reflects this. Would Americans have started snapping up Civics if there hadn't been an energy crisis during the 1970s? Probably not.

Anonymous Poster

Re: September 24, 1958 – Happy Birthday, Honda (Part 2)

11/24/2008 11:45 PM

the only respect I have for hondas reality is the flat four in amotorcycle...and the "torquey" infinite balnce vtec will never get: flat four belongs in cars. Yet another backwards "hondaic" maneuvre. Hondaic is a culture that flies ass brain first....and so small with big numbers....how grotesquely marketable.

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