A brief history of Honda

We look at the interesting history of Honda...

Honda are known for their well-built, reliable cars, and are hugely popular across the world.

Whether you enjoy the sportiness of a Civic or the reliability of the Accord, Honda have a vehicle for pretty much everyone. They are also leading the way when it comes to electric vehicles.

But, where did it all begin?

We look at the history of Honda, from motorcycles to their aims for 2025.

When did Honda start making vehicles?

Soichiro Honda worked as a mechanic at the Art Shokai garage where he tuned cars and entered them in races.

He founded Tokai Seiki, Eastern Sea Precision Machine Company, to make piston rings. They won a contract to supply rings to Toyota, but promptly lost it due to the poor quality of the product. He then attended engineering school, but did not complete it, and visited factories around Japan to understand Toyota’s quality control process.

By 1941, Honda were mass-producing piston rings that were considered acceptable by Toyota. They used an automated process that meant they could employ unskilled wartime labourers.

The company was placed under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry at the start of World War Two. Soichiro Honda was demoted to Senior Managing Director after Toyota took a 40% stake in the company.

Honda aided the war effort by assisting other companies in automating the production of aircraft propellers for the military. Their plant in Yamashita was bombed in 1944, and their Itawa plant collapsed in the Mikawa earthquake of 1945.

Soichiro Honda sold what was left of the company to Toyota, and used the proceeds to found the Honda Technical Research Institute in October 1946.

They started to build and sell improvised motorised bicycles, using war surplus generator engines. When these engines ran out, they began building their own copy of the engine and supplying these to customers. This was the Honda A-Type.

Honda T360 parked on a grey background

However, the Honda Institute was liquidated in 1949, and they used these funds to incorporate Honda Motor Company.

The first complete motorcycle made by Honda was the D-Type and was produced in 1949. It was the first Honda to go by the name of Dream, and Honda soon became the largest manufacturer of motorcycles.

The first production automobile was the T360 and was a mini pick-up truck. It went on sale in August 1963. As it was powered by a small engine, it was classified under the Kei car tax bracket, which was the cheaper tax bracket. The first car from Honda was the S500 sports car, this followed the T630 into production. It had chain-driven rear wheels.

When did Honda create Acura?

In 1986, Honda launched the Acura brand in the United States and Canada. Acura is the luxury branch of Honda, and was created to gain ground in the luxury vehicle market in America.

It was launched in Hong Kong in 1991, Mexico in 2004 and Russia in 2014. Acura is the first Japanese luxury automotive brand and for its first few years, it was among the best-selling luxury marques in the US.

Their flagship vehicle was the Legend, which came as a sedan and a coupe. The success of the Legend inspired Toyota and Nissan to create their own luxury brands, Lexus and Infiniti.

The NSX followed, and was marketed as the Acura NSX in North America. It is a two-seater sports car and used Honda’s VTEC variable valve timing system, the first time this was introduced to the North American market. Current cars include the TLX, MDX and RDX.

Honda and a hostile Mitsubishi Motors

In the 1990s, Honda were struggling. They were being outpaced by their counterparts and were caught out by the truck and SUV boom of the decade.

It was reported in Japanese media that Honda were at risk of a hostile takeover by Mitsubishi Motors. They were, at the time, the larger automaker by volume and were riding high on the success of their Pajero and Diamante.

To avoid this happening, Honda had to act quickly. They changed their corporate culture, allowing for quick market-driven product development. The results were the first generation Odyssey and the CR-V. Thankfully, these vehicles did save Honda from takeover. They also pulled out of Formula One after the 1992 season. It was around this time that they started to think more about the environment and their desire to become an environmentally-friendly car manufacturer.

Red Toyota CR-V 2015 on the road

The Honda Odyssey is a minivan which was produced in two different sizes. There was a smaller one for international markets, and was called the Honda Shuttle in Europe, and a larger one for the North American market. In 1995, the Odyssey won Automotive Researchers’ and Journalists’ Conference Car of the Year award in Japan.

The CR-V is a compact SUV and is pretty common on UK roads to this day. It uses the Civic platform but with an SUV body and, according to Honda, the CR-V stands for ‘Comfortable Runabout Vehicle’. Honda began producing the CR-V in Sayama in Japan but also in Swindon, here in the UK. The CR-V is in its fifth generation currently, and was unveiled in Detroit in 2016 to go on sale in 2017.

Could you see yourself driving around in a Honda? Uncover all our tops deals on these vehicles here

When was the Honda Civic launched?

The Honda Civic is one of the most popular and well-known Honda models.

The Civic started as a subcompact in 1972 but has since become more upmarket and has moved into the compact car segment of the automotive industry. It was originally introduced as a two-door model with a three-door model following shortly. It became known for being reliable, environmentally-friendly and fuel efficient.

bright red Honda Civic EX isolated white/silver background

It later became known for its sportiness, with the likes of the Civic Type R and the Civic GTi becoming popular.

The Honda Civic is currently in its tenth generation and is based on an entirely new platform. It has a fastback exterior and a chrome wing design at the front of the car. There is a customisable, all digital ‘Driver Information Interface’ which incorporates an LCD screen directly behind the steering wheel in the line of sight for the driver.

The Civic, in its time, has become available in sedan, coupe, Si trims and Type-R models, as well as a five-door hatchback option.

Interested in the Honda Civic? Read our review

When was the Honda Accord launched?

The Honda Accord is another hugely popular Honda model and has been around since 1976. The four door sedan variant of the Accord is one of the best-selling cars in the United States, and has been since 1989.

The Accord was the first Honda to be produced in the US, and was built in Marysville, Ohio. The Accord has seen massive success, and has been on the Car and Driver best list 30 times, a record. Past and present road tests have seen the Accord be named as one of the most reliable vehicles in the world, and was the best-selling vehicle in its class in 1991 and 2001 in the United States.

Apparently, the Accord is named as such because it reflects ‘Honda’s desire for accord and harmony between people, society and automobile’.

The current Accord is the ninth generation model, with the tenth unveiled earlier this year (2017). The model will go on sale in November 2017 as a 2018 model. The ninth generation Accord comes in sedan and coupe versions.

The Accord also comes in hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions in the Japanese market. These were introduced in June 2013.

When did Honda start making electric vehicles?

For a long time, the Honda Civic GX was the only purpose-built natural gas vehicle (NGV) commercially available in certain areas of the United States. It first appeared in 1998 as a factory-modified LX. The GX was rated the cleanest-burning internal combustion engine in the world by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in 2001.

In 2005, Honda announced they were phasing out NGV’s and were instead going to focus on hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric vehicles. However, Honda are still selling natural gas vehicles, and these are mainly sold as taxi and commercial fleets.

The Honda Insight was the first commercial hybrid electric car sold in the US, and was launched in late 1999. This was just one month before the Toyota Prius was launched. The Honda Civic started selling as a hybrid in 2002 and the Honda Accord Hybrid followed in 2005 until 2007. The plug-in hybrid version of the Accord was introduced in 2013.

Orange Honda Jazz parked outside a house with a garage and wellington boots by the door

The Honda Jazz hybrid was launched in Europe in 2011, also known as the Honda Fit in Japan. The Jazz also comes in plug-in hybrid form, with the plug-in version released in 2012. In 2012, cumulative global sales for Honda’s hybrid vehicles exceeded the 1 million units mark.

The FCX Clarity was launched in 2008, and was Honda’s first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. However, California is the only place in the USA with the infrastructure for fueling a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, and even then the stations are still limited. Therefore, production volumes will keep low until other developing countries follow suit.

And that really brings us to the present day. Honda have recently unveiled an all-electric sports car at the Tokyo Motor Show. The vehicle is set to sit between the Civic Type R and the NSX and Honda say that it uses artificial intelligence to control the cabin. There’s no word yet as to whether it will make production. Honda have recently committed to offering electric or hybrid on all models from 2018 and are planning to completely electrify their range by 2025. Honda are one of the most well-known brands in the world, and continue to go from strength to strength, particularly paving the way for electric vehicles.

close up of honda steering wheel

Holly Martin

Content Co-ordinator at OSV Ltd
Holly enjoys: Reading, music and spending time with friends.

Within a week of Holly starting work at OSV she became an indispensable part of the marketing team. She's very intuitive and gets on with the whole office effortlessly.
Holly Martin

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