"Always Make Your Products Friendly:"
An Attitude Prevailing from the Very First Product / 1948
"‘Don’t make anything that gives your customers trouble!’ This is something I heard constantly from the Old Man, more often than I care to remember, ever since I started working here," said Kawashima. "‘When you’re making something, think about the person who’ll have to be spending the most time with it.’ And, ‘The person who spends the most time with it will be the customer, right? Next is the repairman at the place that sells the product. Next is the people in our plant. Even though you’re the one who makes it, the designer spends the least time with it of all. If you put yourself in the place of the person who’ll be using the product over a long time, then you won’t be able to design an unfriendly product.’ This was typical of the way the Old Man talked to us."
The initial A-Type auxiliary bicycle engine now preserved in the HCH originally had an aluminum fuel tank that was made by sand casting in two parts, upper and lower. In order to prevent fuel leaks through pinholes that often resulted from this casting technique, the tanks are said to have been given a coating of Japanese lacquer. The brand mark from Honda’s founding period, which shows a "nude figure racing across the heavens," is still faintly discernible.
When the chimney engine was being reconstructed, Mr. Onda also examined its sister product, the A-Type engine, very closely.
"I was just amazed," he said. "All through the engine I saw the signs of what we call a friendly design. I noticed it when I dismantled the engine. ‘What?’ I thought, ‘When I remove a nut from this machine, no parts fall off anywhere. What’s going on?’ For example, there are locknuts on the crankshaft and speed reduction gearbox bearings. In other words, these were screws that hold on the rotating shaft, and they were designed so they wouldn’t cause immediate trouble even if they somehow got loose. Either the screw wouldn’t come out completely, or it was arranged so that the mechanism wouldn’t break down right away if the screw did come all the way out. It was designed to hold at least until the driver realized something was not right, and the problem was noticed. This shows a concern for safety. In those days, screws were low-precision items, and everyone accepted that no matter how well you tightened a nut, it was going to work itself loose. That must be why they thought up this design.
"The same kind of detailed care was taken with maintainability." As Onda observed: "People weren’t equipped with the kinds of specialized tools you find today, so we designed it to make things easy for repairmen, to make it so they could dismantle the machine and reassemble it without using special tools. In effect, this was also a kindness to the customer."
Rediscovering the thoughtful design that, still a goal today, had been built into the A-Type engine, Onda was deeply impressed.
Still, the A-Type was the first product to have the Honda name emblazoned on its fuel tank, and it was very well received. As usual, brokers would come wait for the machines to be finished, and buy them up. From all around the Hamamatsu area, customers would come to the plant with their bicycles and make their request: "Please install it on this."
There were also an increasing number of bicycle shops that would sell bicycles with the A-Type engine already installed. Some of them fabricated their own reinforced bicycle frames to sell with the engine, and went on from there to mimic the Honda company and make their own engines, ending up becoming manufacturers themselves. Stimulated by the Honda success, over forty manufacturers appeared in Hamamatsu alone, both small and large. Hamamatsu became the center for "pon-pon" manufacturing in Japan. "Pon-pon" was the local Hamamatsu name for bicycles with auxiliary engines.
On September 24, 1948, riding on the wave of its first product, the A-Type, the Honda Motor Co., Ltd., set sail. The company headquarters were established at Itaya-cho, near Hamamatsu Station. Of course, it was just a small, one-room office.
Following the A-Type, the company created a prototype for the B-Type, a compact 90 cc cargo-carrying three-wheeler. However, the chassis had to be contracted out, and the three-wheeler had unstable riding characteristics. President Honda did not like either of these things, and he canceled it at the prototype stage.
The next product developed was the 96 cc Honda C-Type, based on the A-Type engine. The C-Type raised the A-Type’s one horsepower to three. The C-Type was sold not just as a complete engine, but also installed on a specially constructed frame that made it something like a motorcycle with pedals. However, the company did not have the necessary facilities, so the frame still had to be contracted out. Fabrication of the welded pipe frame took time, and the quality was uneven, which made President Honda impatient.
One thing about the C-Type is noteworthy. It was Honda’s first public entry in a race, winning the class championship at a Japanese-American competition held at Maruko Tamagawa in July 1949.
However, this was nothing more than a transitional product that never rose to the level sought by President Honda. He had growing ambitions to create not just engines but to take on the challenge of making motorcycles by producing both the engine and the body.