Birthplace: Tenryu City, Japan
Location of death: Tokyo, Japan
Cause of death: Liver Failure
Remains: Cremated (ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean)
Race or Ethnicity: Asian
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Business, Engineer
Executive summary: Founder of Honda Motor Company
Bored with formal education, Soichiro Honda barely finished high school and immediately went to work as an apprentice auto mechanic. Because he was only 16 years old, he was required to spend the first year of his apprenticeship as a nanny for the shop owner's family. In his early 20s Honda opened his own garage, where in 1938 he perfected a method for casting a perfect piston ring, and began selling the rings to Toyota. He soon needed a new factory to meet rising demand, but cement was unavailable due to pre-war materials shortages, so he improvised a formula to make his own cement. After the war, as fuel shortages loomed, he sold the piston business to Toyota and started the Honda Motor Company in 1948, making small, fuel-efficient engines. His first Honda motorcycles were ordinary pedal-powered bicycles augmented by his two-stroke engine, but sales were brisk and Honda soon designed and began manufacturing his own motorcycles. In 1958 Honda's company became Japan's best-selling motorcycle brand, and the following year Honda began exporting motorcycles to America. His interest in motorcycles was not merely a commercial concern -- before and after the war, Honda was an avid amateur motorcycle race driver who racked up frequent victories.
Beginning in 1956, Honda sought to go into the automaking business, but Japan's powerful Ministry of Trade and Industry had a long-term plan for the nation's auto industry, which did not include any late-blooming competitors. He was unpopular with Japan's bureaucracy, probably for his outspoken admiration of American business practices and his policy of promoting employees based on merit, not merely age, as was the practice at other Japanese companies. The required permits were withheld for ten years, until Honda was finally allowed to manufacture a small number of autos in 1966. Honda's cars were slow-sellers both in Japan and abroad, until new regulations from America's Environmental Protection Agency forced Honda's competitors to add anti-pollution devices to their vehicles, while Honda's tiny CVCC model met all the new EPA requirements without needing any modifications. Honda began importing its CVCC (the Civic) to America in 1972, to slow but steadily increasing sales. The company added its more upscale Accord in 1976 and Acura in 1986. Concerned that America might raise taxes on imports, in 1979 Honda became the first Japanese manufacturer to open a factory in America. It was one of the last of the company's big ideas that came from Honda himself -- he had retired in 1973, but remained with the company as "senior consultant" until his death in 1991.
Father: Gihei Honda (owned bicycle shop)
Mother: Mika Honda (weaver)
Brother: Benjiro Honda
Wife: Sachi (three children)
High School: Futamata Senior Elementary School, Tenryu City, Japan (1922)
Honda Founder & President (1948-73)
Automotive Hall of Fame
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