With the announcement of the closing of Honda’s European production factory in Swindon and the decision to make Electric cars back in Japan we see a whole new chapter in this remarkable country. For the time that they were here they brought new working practice as and methods to an industry that was in the doldrums. They also support several charities, local museums and schools. Who did this Japanese company start and gain such prominence coming out of the ashes of Japan’s defeat in the Second World War?
It all begins with one man’s vision Soichiro Honda was fulfilling a passion to work with cars and bikes at a local garage where he also prepared cars for races as a side line. Many people combine their love of cars and bikes buy working in MOT Gloucester companies or other mechanic based jobs. Wanting to get out on his won he took a finance loan from a friend to found Tokai Seiki a production company making Piston rings. The products were inferior and the company was less than successful so Honda began engineering school getting what he needed and then leaving to study Toyota factories and their ways of working. Restarting Tokai Seiki the new rings were accepted by Toyota and he began to make a profit.
The coming of the War meant that all factories were turned over to State control and converted to war work. Toyota took over control of Tokai Seiki with Honda in a Directors role. He in turn helped to streamline Military aircraft production gaining him much respect with Toyota, the Nakajima aircraft Company and the Military. US military bombing and an earthquake destroyed the production facilities of Tokai Seiki but undaunted Honda sold the land and production remains using the Yen to found the Honda Technical Research Institute after the war.
With just 12 employees Honda began to dabble in putting motors on bikes. The Japanese economy was smashed and while people still needed to get around this was a cheap and easy alternative. Using old war engines leftover Honda and his team copied the design to manufacture their own version. The Honda A type is the first that the company produced and it was so successful that Honda ended the Research Institute to found Honda Motor Co limited. Recognising that he needed a business model he hired Kihachiro Kawashima and Takeo Fujisawa (who was to be a lifelong friend) to sell the engines and market them so that Honda could concentrate on engineering.
The first proper motorbike was the D-Type in 1949 and the first car was the T360 mini truck in 1963.