A remarkable man called Honda (from the Observer Newspaper archive, 16 June 1963)

A remarkable man called Honda

Just 10 years ago in 1953, a Japanese businessman on a machine-tool shopping expedition to England decided to attend the Isle of Man TT motorcycle races. He was shocked by what he saw. His own company – Honda – was at that time turning out a 250cc machine called the “Dream”, which developed 13 horsepower; the equivalent 250cc British machines competing in TT events gave 36hp. The realisation of the difference between the two was a turning point in Soichiro Honda’s career. When he returned to Japan, he immediately established a research department with the sole aim of producing a machine that could compete with the world’s best in Grand Prix racing.

Honda CR110

By the end of last week’s Manx TT races, Honda had scooped up a first and a third in the 250cc class and a first in the 350cc. Incidentally, he had also become the world’s biggest manufacturer of motorcycles. Early this month, the company started pilot production in Belgium. After only seven months of selling in Britain, Honda claims it has 40% of the 50cc market.

Mike Hailwood ridng a Honda CR110 on the Isle of Man

Soichiro Honda is the new Japanese tycoon: self-made, determined, with a touch of genius. He and men like Konosuke Matsushita of Matshushita Electric and Masaru Ibuka of the Sony Corporation are as different from the semi-feudal bureaucrats of the prewar zaibatsu cartel as today’s Japanese economy is from prewar days.

Honda is 57, son of a blacksmith, and left school to be apprenticed to a garage in Tokyo. He says that he’s been obsessed with speed ever since he can remember. Honda’s early days after the war could hardly have been less impressive. He went into the motorcycle business in 1948 when he bought 2,000 surplus Japanese army petrol motors and fitted them on to the crossbars of ordinary bicycle frames.

As sales boomed, he incorporated the Honda Motor Company with a capital of £1,000 to begin full-scale motorcycle manufacturing.

After the Isle of Man revelation, Honda scrapped his old two-stroke engines and developed a four-stroke, knowing that if he could give them a reputation in the racing world he would be able to develop his export markets. It took four years before he won his first major event in Japan.

All Honda’s success has been built on sophistications of production techniques. His plants are more like watch factories than mass-production machinery plants. The entire purchasing, production and distribution systems are so integrated that plants have no stockpiles of finished products or raw materials. Each day’s production moves directly from factory to dealer.

The company’s 6,000 employees are among the highest paid in Japan. The average monthly wage is £26.13s (plus two annual bonuses and fringe benefits) compared with a nation-wide average of £23.06s. In common with other big Japanese firms, Honda is firmly paternalistic. Supplying housing, medical care and holiday resorts to its workers at nominal cost. The workers own 30% of the stock (Honda himself owns 10%) and two out of three own either a car or a motorcycle – far above the Japanese average.

Honda spends most of his time at a new £1.5m research centre. Spread over 26 acres, near the Saitama plant, where innovation goes on round the clock. The company spends an average £150,000 a month on research, which is one of the biggest research budgets in Japan. Much of it is directed at repeating Honda’s success with motorcycles in other fields.

Honda is planning to market sports cars designed to attract teenage sports car enthusiasts in the United States. Conscious of the Grand Prix successes in promoting motorcycle sales, Honda is now engaged in a crash programme to develop a Formula II racing car with which he expects to surprise the racing world next year.

And more is on the way. Honda will announce its entry into the light plane market soon. The company has developed a plane which is expected to take a substantial share of the market now dominated by the United States.

It plans to establish a chain of private flying fields and aero clubs around Japan – eventually expanding abroad – which will give sales a practical, promotional boost. In the same way, the company has been busily creating interest in motorcycles by building Techniland parks throughout Japan, with racing tracks, hill-climbing facilities and novelty rides to keep the children happy – all employing Honda products.

A racing circuit has been built at Suzuka and Japan’s first Grand Prix car race was held there in May this year. Nineteen of the world’s top racing drivers were invited (at Honda’s expense) to compete.

The Honda Motor Company is in a strong financial position by Japanese standards. Its capital has increased from £1,000 in 1948 to £9.9m in 1963 and its profits have never fallen below 20% cent of the paid-up capital.

(This is an edited extract)



Honda tribute to biking legend

John McGuinness paying tribute to Joey Dunlop

ISLE OF MAN – To mark the 30th anniversary of Joey’s Dunlop first Isle of Man TT win with Honda his former team mate and Honda TT Legends rider John McGuinness contested the June 2, 2013, Superbike race in tribute Dunlop livery. Dunlop died in Tallinn, Estonia, in 2000 while leading a 125cc race. He apparently lost control of his bike in wet conditions and was killed on impact with trees.

Watch a video tribute:

The red-and-black Joey Dunlop/Honda Britain design on the Honda TT Legends CBR1000RR Fireblade and McGuinness’s leathers is based on what Dunlop wore for his final Isle of Man TT in 2000.

John McGuinness paying tribute to Joey Dunlop

The tribute is part of a weekend-long celebration by Honda that paid homage to the “King of the Road”. The manufacturer also hosted a gala dinner with special guest appearances by Dunlop’s former team mates Ron Haslam, Roger Marshall, Roger Burnett, Carl Fogarty, Phillip McCallen, Michael Rutter and John McGuinness as well as his wife Linda Dunlop and nephews Michael and William Dunlop.

Honda (UK) racing manager Neil Tuxworth said: “There are a few reasons why we decided to celebrate the life and times of Joey Dunlop. First of all he is Honda’s longest-standing factory rider – he rode for us longer than any other rider in any championship in Honda’s history – and on top of that he won five World championships and 26 TT races, 24 of which were on Honda machines.

John McGuinness in action

“It was in 1983 that Dunlop secured his first TT win with Honda so 2013 marks the 30th anniversary and it seemed the perfect time to honour him and his career achievements.”

John McGuinness said: “It’s an honour to be asked to take part in the tribute to Joey. He was and still is the most famous road racer of all time and although it’s 30 years since his first Honda win he’ll never be forgotten.

“Seeing the tribute design for the first time brought back all the memories of being Joey’s team mate. It’s an iconic design and he just looked so cool so it’s going to be pretty special getting to wear it in his memory.”



High-Access survey Robot co-developed by Honda begins work at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station

High-Access Survey Robot during a demonstration

Honda Motor Co., Ltd. and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) have jointly developed a remotely controlled survey robot that will conduct on-site surveys on the first floor of a nuclear reactor building at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Its primary function will be to determine the state of the structures in both high and narrow areas. This newly-developed survey robot will begin working inside the reactor building as of this month.

The survey robot was developed to specifically investigate the actual conditions inside the reactor building based on information provided by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). AIST developed the high-area accessible crawler work platform and Honda developed the survey-performing robot arm which is installed on top of the platform.

High-Access Survey Robot

In developing the survey-performing robot arm, Honda applied the following technologies which were originally developed for ASIMO, Honda’s humanoid robot:

  • Technologies that enable a 3D display of structures surrounding the subject of the survey using a 3D point cloud (a group of vertices in a coordinated system)
  • A control system that enables the simultaneous control of multiple joints
  • Control technologies which enable the robot arm to absorb the impact when it makes physical contact with surrounding structures

With these technologies, the newly developed robot arm can easily approach hard-to-see objects that are behind other objects in a structurally-complex environment in the reactor building by applying simultaneous control on multiple joints. When approaching the objects, the robot uses a zoom camera, laser range finder and dosimeter located at the tip of the arm to confirm detailed images, collect 3D data and identify the source of radiation.

For the high-area accessible crawler work platform to function properly, a low centre of gravity was required to enhance the stability of the robot, whilst AIST applied its various remote control technologies and ingeniously positioned camera, lights, laser marker and other devices, enabling it to be remotely controlled via 400-meter fibre-optic wired LAN and wireless LAN.

High-Access Survey Robot - from compact unit to fully extended

Moreover, Honda and AIST jointly developed an intuitive remote-control interface. Using this interface, the operator can control the robot from a remote location such as the Main Anti-earthquake Building and allow the robot to manouevre in dark and narrow places in the reactor building. Once the robot reaches a target spot, the mast can be extended to survey areas as high as seven meters without hitting the robot arm against surrounding structures.

Key specifications:

1. Length              1.8m

2. Width                  0.8m

3. Height                1.8m (while being transported/traveling)

4. Maximum reach (height)              7.0m

5. Weight               Approximately 1,100kg

6. Robot arm        Length: 1.7m, DOF: 11

7. Travel capability              Maximum travel speed: 2km/h

Maximum allowable incline: 15 degrees (front/back), 20 degrees (sideways)

Maximum allowable bumps: 60mm in height

While making progress in the development of ASIMO, a humanoid robot that can be helpful to people while co-existing with people in their daily lives, Honda also has been studying and researching the possibility of using humanoid robots at disaster sites. Following the development of this survey-performing robot arm, Honda will accelerate the development of humanoid robots also designed for use in response to disasters, including the prevention and mitigation of damage caused by a disaster.

Survey Robot's operational arm

In reaction to the Great East Japan Earthquake, AIST has been supporting recovery efforts in various forms including surveying the situation of underground seawater seepage in areas affected by the tsunami, leading the Kesennuma Kizuna Project, conducting and supporting radiation measurement and decontamination, and volume reduction of plant-based radioactive cesium. AIST will continue utilizing primarily its robotic technologies to contribute to the efforts to decommission the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.



Top Gear and Honda team up

Top Gear joining forces with Honda

Top Gear and Honda have teamed up to tackle a motorsports speed record. No, it’s not a car-based record. Nor is it a truck, van, or even a motorcycle. Instead, we’re dealing with the type of vehicle that’s normally relegated to slow speeds… and trimming the grass. That’s right, it’s a lawnmower. Since we’re talking about Top Gear though, you can expect this to be one that’s been modified for a bit more speed and power.

The current lawnmower speed record is 96.5 miles per hour and it’s held by a fuel additive company called Gold Eagle. Honda and Top Gear are aiming quite a bit higher with a goal speed of 130 miles per hour/ 210km/h. To hit that target, the mower has been extensively modified. Its engine has been swapped out for the unit from one of the manufacturers motorcycles, and the tyres appear to have been snagged from one of its ATVs.

A Honda motorcycle engine is being used as the power source

This mega mower also still needs to be able to cut grass. In order to accomplish that, the team had to attach brake cables to the underside to act as the blades since the original cutting equipment would no longer bolt up. How fast will it take to cut the lawn once this thing rolls out of the workshed? Well, early estimates peg the acceleration figure at 0-60 miles per hour in around four seconds.

“There’s no scientific reason why we asked Honda to build this,” said Piers Ward, senior road tester at Top Gear Magazine. “The grass needed mowing and everything on the market seemed a bit slow. Why take an hour to mow a football pitch when you can do it in five minutes?”

Sounds like a typical Top Gear project and why not? We’ll keep you informed of developments.