By 2008, Honda Motor Company was the sixth largest auto manufacturer. While its beginnings were in motorcycles, it also has a long and distinguished history in auto manufacturing.
Japanese mechanic Soichiro Honda started Honda Motor Company in 1948. World War II had restricted Japan's gas supplies and so, unable to drive a car, Honda attached a small engine to his bicycle.
Honda established the Honda Technical Research Institute to produce two-stroke motorcycle engines, then raised capital and created the Honda Cub. By 1963 the Honda Motor Company was the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer.
In 1955, Japan's government announced a project to produce a car for the people. Between 1957 and 1958 Honda Motor Company hired additional engineers and created the sporty S360 and S500 and the T360 pickup. Honda unveiled all three in June 1962 but the S360 was never produced. Honda released the T360 in June 1963 and the S500 four months later.
Honda realized early on that it could design different cars for different countries and their needs. In 1970 it exported its first car to the United States, the N600. However, it was the Civic that established Honda as a serious car manufacturer.
The first Civics were produced in 1973. They were compact, fuel-efficient (40 mpg) and still had room for four passengers. Over the years Honda refined and reinvented the Civic numerous times, even creating versions that used alternative fuels. In 1998, the Honda Civic GX became the only natural gas vehicle available in the USA, and in 2003, the first hybrid Civic launched.
Honda's reputation for reliability and innovation grew. Starting in 1981, Honda began manufacturing the subcompact Honda City for Asia. It is still in production as of 2009. The Accord was first sold in the USA in 1982 and by 1989 was named America's most popular car. Honda also created the Prelude and the Acura for the luxury market.
In 1995, the Honda S2000 was first shown and was launched four years later to celebrate Honda's 50th birthday. In 1994 Honda released the Passport SUV and its first minivan, the Odyssey. Two years later the Honda CR-V, a small SUV based on the Honda Civic, came out.
In 2000, Honda introduced the Insight, the first hybrid car in the United States (it beat the Toyota Prius by a month). It boasted 70 mpg. In 2003 Honda released the Pilot, a full-size SUV to replace the Passport, the compact SUV Honda Element and the Ridgeline, Honda's first American-market pickup. The subcompact Honda Fit was introduced to the Asian market in 2001, along with the Mobilio, Mobilio Spike and Airwave. In 2009, Honda produced the first mass-market hydrogen fuel cell hybrid, the FCX Clarity, for Japan.
As the Honda Motor Company grows, it continues to innovate and make progress in engineering and fuel efficiency. Honda has claimed that by 2013 it may be mass-producing fuel-cell vehicles.
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