The real breakthrough for Honda in the American market came with the 1963 “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” advertising campaign for its motorcycles. Positioning Honda motorcycles away from the sordid outlaw image of bikers and giving them a wholesome appeal worked wonders. The company sold more than 100,000 motorcycles that year.
Seven years later, American Honda Motor Company offered the first of its new Honda cars—the 1970 Honda N600. The N600 was followed by the Z600 Coupe and the S600 roadster (the forerunner to the Honda S2000 sports car). The cars languished on the market until the 1973 Arab oil embargo triggered the first American energy crisis. Then, the Honda Civic two-door hatchback— introduced that year—found a very ready audience because of its fuel efficiency.
That car’s follow-up, the 1974 Honda CVCC was the first car to meet the standards imposed by the 1970 U.S. Clean Air Act. In fact, those new Honda models met the standards running on either regular or unleaded gasoline and did so without using a catalytic converter. Further, they were ranked by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the most fuel-efficient cars sold in America in 1974. Honda could claim its cars were both good on gas and good for the air. The public responded favorably, Honda has been a household name in automobiles ever since.
The Civic was followed in 1976 by the highly successful new Honda Accord cars, which eventually went on to become the best selling passenger car in the U.S. between 1990 and 1992. The Honda Accord was also the first new Japanese car to be built in the United States. Today, Honda operates nine production facilities in the U.S.
The larger new Honda cars attracted middle class car buyers, which opened the door for Honda to become the first Japanese manufacturer to introduce a luxury car to the U.S. market. The company launched its upscale Acura brand in 1986 to considerable acclaim. The ready acceptance of Acura inspired Honda to offer the world’s first Japanese mid-engine exotic sports car—the 1990 Acura NSX. Using a high-revving V6 engine and an all-aluminum monocoque, the NSX was both powerful and lightweight.
The success of the NSX didn’t sway the company away from environmentally sensitive undertakings. Subsequent new Honda models included the first mass-produced gasoline/electric hybrid car in 1999—the Honda Impact. Honda was the first to market with a fuel-cell electric car in 2002—the new Honda FCX Clarity models. Further, the Honda Civic GX was the first natural gas powered automobile offered by a mainstream auto builder.