The Rise of Motorcycles
The automobile industry took off in Europe after World War II. By the end of the decade, three of the big automakers had emerged: Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. These companies competed with each other in order to win the “Big Three” automaker title. They had the advantage of mass production, which helped them become more competitive.
American Honda came into the picture in September 1959. In a few months’ time, it was clear that this company was a force to be reckoned with. It was also evident that the automobile was the wave of the future, but the road ahead was not smooth.
For starters, it was affordable. Sales were projected at a thousand units per month. This was not a good number, but it was a start. A sales staff of twelve people was assembled, with each person covering several states.
Ads appeared in motorcycle magazines, first-class and trade newspapers. The ads were colorful and the images were bright. One ad was aptly named the Honda 50. It featured a colorful illustration and a highly professional design.
The motorcycle industry in the United States was largely thought to be a drab, dark place. It was considered to be a toy. There were oil pans on the floor of dealerships, and the showrooms were not clean. However, these negative views did not stop the Japanese from entering the American market.
Japanese opinion makers saw an opportunity to gain market share by producing a car in the U.S. that was more affordable than its European competitors. While this may have been the logical path to take, it was a risk.
Soichiro Honda conducted market surveys in both Europe and Asia. He was a savvy businessman, and he knew that a third-party legwork program could interfere with his business interests. After all, if he sold durable goods, he had to take responsibility for maintaining them.
But he was determined not to fall into the trap. He believed that the right way to advertise an automobile was not to call it a motorcycle.
As the automobile industry began to gain popularity in the U.S., many manufacturers strove to develop products that were affordable. Honda’s response was the Super Cub.
The Super Cub was designed to appeal to both men and women. Powered by a quiet four-stroke engine, it was easy to maneuver. Although it was relatively small, it offered twice the horsepower of its competing products.
Honda had already established itself in Japan, but its domestic sales network was a bit lacking. When Kawashima arrived in Los Angeles in June 1959, he immediately started looking for office space. Soon he found a property on West Pico Boulevard.
With a new location, Kawashima reported to Honda’s chief executive officer, Tadashi Fujisawa. The two leaders figured out that it was time for Honda to venture into the American market.
After a brief stint in Japan, Kawashima moved to Los Angeles. He set up shop at a former photo studio on West Pico Boulevard. From there, he started looking for sales outlets. His plan was to begin in September of 1959.