All companies have origin stories, although most times they’re nowhere near as cool as the kind you see in movies. When it comes to Honda, however, it’s about as real as it gets.
This story starts, however, not at the beginning of Soichiro Honda’s life, but in the middle. The year is 1973, and Honda is about to release their CVCC technology, which you might remember seeing stamped onto older Honda engines. This tech figured out a way to make engines run cleanly without catalytic converters, the cumbersome, heavy, horsepower-throttling way that most automakers used to deal with emissions requirements.
Honda’s engineers knew there had to be a better way, so they redesigned the combustion process to make fuel burn better without catalytic converters. This feat was so amazing that Ford and Chrysler made deals to license the technology to put into all of their own vehicles. Pretty cool, right? Well it was to everyone except one tiny company known as General Motors. Folding their arms across their chests, the company said that CVCC might, might, work on some smaller engines, but not anything big enough that consumers would actually care about. Here’s the direct quote from GM CEO Richard Gerstenberg:
“Well, I have looked at this design, and while it might work on some little toy motorcycle engine…I see no potential for it on one of our GM car engines.”
Now, you have to understand that the reason this particular statement was so incendiary was that Honda had started as a motorcycle company. Soichiro Honda had moved to Tokyo when he was 15 with no job. He became an auto mechanic, learned everything about cars, moved back home, started a company for Toyota, had his factories destroyed during World War II bombing and an earthquake, sold the company to Toyota, started a new company that made motorcycles, outsold Harley-Davidson and Triumph in their own markets, and expanded Honda into a billion-dollar company selling cars.
So when GM referred to “little toy motorcycles,” they made the wrong move.
Soichiro imported a V8 Chevy Impala, had his engineers equip it with a CVCC, and sent it back to the U.S. Not only did the Impala perform just as well with CVCC and no cat converter, it achieved slightly better fuel economy, and passed all EPA standards.
There’s an old line about how you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. The moral here is that if you make a press statement about Honda, they’re more apt to take your own technology apart and beat you on your own turf.