Honda has reached the milestone of building its 300 millionth motorcycle in its 65th year of production. That’s a pretty amazing feat.
Significantly, the first Honda motorcycle was a simple 98cc Dream Type-D built in 1949, while the honour for the 300 millionth Honda will go to their hi-tech transcontinental tourer, the 2015 40th anniversary Honda Gold Wing.
From humble beginnings, Honda now produces motorcycles, ATV’s and side-by-sides at 32 plants in 22 countries. For decades now Honda has been the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer and has the world’s biggest-selling model – the Honda Super Cub which has sold more than 87 million.
So how did Honda become so amazingly successful and what is its future?
Shortly after it began production, the company broke out of “little Japan” as founder Soichiro Honda called it. They were the first Japanese motorcycle manufacturer to export and were selling bikes in the US within 10 years.
Also, unlike most other Japanese and Korean vehicle manufacturers, Honda has localised their operations overseas, rather than having an “overlord” Japanese influence. This has allowed them to appreciate and grow with their markets.
Honda has always had engineers at the helm who have guided the company through technology-driven development. It has been driven by diversification with everything from powered equipment through to planes, giving them plenty of cross-pollination technological developments.
In particular, Honda is the world’s leading engine maker, with annual production of more than 20 million internal combustion motors.
The company is also financially secure, having never posted a loss in its history.
But more than all this, it developed an early affection among its customers for fun.
Do you remember the famous “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” ad campaign?
It began in the US in 1964 when motorcycle riders were considered dirty, greasy-haired hooligans. The much-lauded ad campaign depicted men in suits, mothers, children even dogs riding on the Honda 50.
Suddenly the motorcycle wasn’t a demon, but a beloved member of respectable society and the Super Cub became a super-seller.
When I first started riding in the early 1970s, Hollywood legend Steve McQueen was endorsing the Elsinore dirt bike the super-refined and powerful CB750 was rocking the world with and Hondas were considered “nice bikes”.
Mums didn’t want their kids riding “dangerous motorcycles”, but a Honda wasn’t considered a dangerous motorcycle. It was considered to be fun.
Hondas were considered clean and reliable with no grubby oil leaks on the garage floor like the popular British bikes at the time. And most of their road bikes came with the magic and convenient electric starter, not a kick starter, so everyone could start them easily, first time, every time.
My first riding experience was on a friend’s XL, I coveted another friend’s Super Four and the first bike I owned was a CB100.
I have since owned eight Hondas and have a 1980 CX500 in my garage for tinkering and customising. Not one of those has ever given me any serious mechanical trouble – except the 34-year-old CX, but that was an issue with a non-genuine fuse connector!
I also have a close friend who is on his sixth Gold Wing simply because he reckons there is no finer motorcycle and he has never had a single issue with any of them.
How can you compete with that?
But the future isn’t just about being reliable. Every bike is reliable these days.
The future is about new technologies, alternative powertrains and niche products for a divergent market.
The Japanese company is playing an important role in each of these areas. While some of their styling choices in recent years have seemed a little strange and their scooteresque cruisers leave me cold, they are still one of the best-prepared motorcycle companies for conquering the challenges of the future.
Congratulations to Honda on a significant milestone.
What are your all-time top 10 favourite Hondas? My list would have to include the CB750, CBR900RR, CBR1100XX Blackbird, VFR800 VTEC, XR650R, Africa Twin, Postie Bike, CBR954RR, CB400 Super Four and ST1100.