Born in 1946 from the ashes of a company that manufactured piston rings, Honda made a name for itself by building motorcycles and scooters. The company was successful early on and it opened its first overseas office in California in 1959.
Founder Soichiro Honda was a visionary who dreamed of expanding his business to other forms of transportation. Building upon its expertise in the motorcycle business, Honda launched a small pickup truck called T360...
and a two-seater sports car dubbed S500 in 1963.
Both vehicles were sold exclusively in Japan, where the T360 was popular because its size, weight and engine displacement positioned it at the heart of the kei car market. The S500's unusual mechanical design propelled Honda onto the world stage: It was powered by a 531cc dual-overhead cam four-cylinder engine fed by four individual carburetors, and power was sent to the rear wheels through a manual transmission that spun a chain, a design directly carried over from the world of motorcycles.
Honda focused on expanding its lineup in its home country with models such as the air-cooled 1300 before turning its sights on foreign markets. It exported the tiny N600 to the United States starting in 1970 but sales were dismal because it was ill-adapted to a world of super-sized body-on-frame sedans.
The Civic was launched in 1972 as a 1973 model and it became an instant hit when OPEC's 1973 oil embargo sent buyers flocking to small imports that sipped fuel. Honda launched the larger Accord in 1973 and it had carved out a comfortable niche in the United States by the time the 1970s drew to a close.
The 1980s were characterized by the launch of the upmarket Acura brand in 1986, a move that spawned similar sub-divisions from rivals Toyota and Nissan. Honda turned the dial up to 11 in 1991 with the arrival of the NSX sports cars.
The Accord was the best-selling passenger car in the United States in the early 1990s but Honda lost ground to Detroit's Big Three in the mid- and late- 1990s when SUVs were in full vogue. Rising gas prices and a general shift towards smaller vehicles helped Honda thrive in the 2000s.
Honda's current lineup consists of cars, vans and crossovers ranging from the pint-sized Fit to the Pilot soft-roader. In addition to cars, the company also manufactures marine engines, motorcycles, ATVs, lawn mowers, snowblowers, generators, tillers and small business jets.