1963 Observer profile of Soichiro Honda


edit - tried pasting the article but it didnt work - sorry!

Amazing - after only 7 months in the UK market (1963) Honda had 40% of the 50cc market.

Meanwhile in Birmingham and Coventry the UK Motorcycle giants (as they then were ) decided to retreat from the small capacity (up to 250cc) market because they thought learners could start on small Jap bikes and then , naturally, they would migrate to BSAs, Triumphs, Nortons and the rest…

Meanwhile a bike called the CB750 was in the wings…

Surely in the history of management this must rank with the imaginary turkeys who vote for Christmas…:angry:

Yes - never underestimate your competitor.

Reminds me of the dismissive attitude to Chinese bikes today - in a decades time there will probably be Chinese superbikes competing on level terms with the established Japanese and European manufacturers.

I remember reading that 3 years later BSA got hold of a Suzuki ‘Super Six’ (T20) a 250cc two stroke twin for evaluation and were shocked at how well it was made and how well it performed ( except for the handling).

They did a comparison report with the then BSA 250cc bike (Starfire?) - I think it was this report that led to the decision to abandon lightweights - they realised they would need to halt all production and start again from scratch - a huge investment with no guarantee the end result would be competitive on performance and price.

Since the big bike range was doing so well - in fact record sales were being recorded year on year - I can see the short sighted temptation to concentrate on Bonnies, Spitfires, Lightenings etc…

If only they had learned from the Super Six and put money into modernising their big bikes at least instead of adding small improvements to designs that wer between 15 to 25 years old…

Yeah - seems there was a lot of complacency in British industry at the time - maybe the problem was psychological - Britain had won the war and was content to sit back whilst the Japanese (and Germans) had been utterly destroyed and were determined to get back on their feet through a combination of innovation, engineering excellence, attention to detail and sheer hard work.

Yes but from what I read British bikes were oil leaking, unreliable and they were still making the same bike that they were years before. The Japanese came along with reliable, well built fresh designs. The British bike industry had become stagnant.

Looking at the Chinese stuff, it is not very well made, spares are a constant problem, and is in general a very poor end product. The only redeeming thing about them is the price. But this is a false economy because if it is breaking down regularly and you can’t get the spares.

Insight my friend… I grew up in Germany and the complacency of the English is my eternal gut wrenching frustration of the experience of living here. Like the Romans before us and the Americans after… we have rested on our laurels for far too ruddy long… there is only so much credit we can buy in the world with our quaint traditions of royalty stiff upper lips…

Really pleased to see that despite my antisocial view on life and glaringly unpopulist thinking , that there is intelligent life out there… Ninja we need to get hold of some damm fine red wine, good meat and a barbecue sometime.

Sounds good mate. :slight_smile:

Yes - but weren’t there quality concerns about Japanese products in the 60’s and 70’s?

‘Made in Japan’ had negative connotations right up to ther 70’s just like made in China does now - but they turned things around and became known more generaly for their quality.

But Chinese quality control seems to be getting worse. Talking to a friend a while ago who supports a company that imports most of it’s goods from China, the failure rate of the items stands around about 15%. That’s not what is failing in the first year, that is what is faulty as it arrives. Apparently it stood at 5% ten years ago.

Have a read of this fail:


Basic the primary manufacture of the iPhone built and shipped 8 million iPhones that have had to be returned because they are not fit for sale.

The big difference between Japan and China, is that Japan strived towards excellence in manufacture and everyone right down to the workers took enormous pride in their work. They also changed and came up with new working practices. The Chinese regime, just exploits is citizens to provide cheap labour making profit for a small number of party workers and select people, with no labour laws and nothing protecting the workers. The Chinese manufactures are not striving to make their products better, just cheaper, and if they have to cut corners they do.

Yes - your right - there are quite marked cultural differences between China and Japan and this will be reflected in their working practices and products.

I guess the bottom line is whether China will want to compete at the top end of the motorcycle market or not - if they do then they will have to produce a comparable product.


China won’t be a Japan ever… too many sociopolitical barriers at fundanmental level… besides they don’t want to win quality, they want to win numbers… MacDonalds stylee

Ninja, Toby - I agree.

Go back in a time machine to 1960 and we would not recognise the UK management mindset as being from the same species let alone the same country.

After all part of the 60’s revolution was against the stuffy attitudes of the war time generation.

Their attitudes coloured their actions and decisions - doesn’t it with anyone?

If they had mad these decisions 10 years earlier they may have got away with it - but society was changing under their feet by the 1960’s and they would not acknowledge it - big mistake.

So the following prejudices all contributed to their downfall

We won the war - British engineering triumphed against the worldThe British Motorcycle dominates the world and always willForeigners ( not counting Germans ) make shoddy goods that don’t lastWe have an Empire - we know that foreign workers with different coloured skin are no match for British workers and technologyWe will not update conservative designs - Anything vaguely hinting at speed and attraction is flash and spivy - not for British bikes!We will ignore any of our market sector under 40…Leather Boys, Ton Up merchants and Rockers are just working class yobboes - despite the fact that 65% of our big bike customers are under 25…Young people should aspire to wearing sports jackets and cravats - not shirk around in leathers!We will see our ideal customer as looking like Kenneth Moore - a dependable pipe smoking chap of a good background and we will design our motorcycles around him

Sad but that’s the way it was