The 1960s and the Rise of Motorcycles
The American car scene was dominated by large automobiles. Despite the growing popularity of motorcycles, the motorcycle industry remained a fraction of the automobile market in the United States. There was also a perception that motorcycle dealerships were dirty and dark. Consequently, the local reaction to the introduction of Honda was negative.
After World War II, the automobile industry returned to strength. Automobiles became an accepted mode of transportation, even in rural areas. During this era, the financial markets began to wobble, and social distress was often cited as a reason for the slump. Nonetheless, the 1960s were filled with a spirit of progressivism, the Jet Age, and high hopes. It was the era of rebirth and the beginning of a new chapter in the history of automobiles.
By the end of the decade, the automobile industry had ascended to the status of the “Big Three.” These three automakers were Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. While the auto industry grew during the first half of the twentieth century, mass production increased competition. Auto manufacturers were able to build more automobiles in a shorter period of time, and these cars were more fuel efficient. In addition, they were safer for passengers, especially those who did not ride in the back seat.
Honda was already a successful motorcycle manufacturer in Japan. However, they were looking to expand their sales to the U.S. They were unsure how to do this without help from a trading company. Some directors recommended that Honda enlist the services of a third-party legwork company. But they worried that the service could interfere with their business interests.
Nevertheless, Honda’s executives agreed that it was time to go it alone. To begin with, they launched an ad campaign. The ads were designed to appeal to the American consumer. They featured colorful illustrations and cheerful photos, which contrasted with the image of the outlaw motorcycle.
The ads were distributed to various trade and general interest magazines. Several different models were included in the campaign. Among them were the Stout Scarab, which was designed by William Bushnell Stout for his own engineering firm. This model had a rear engine and was built to carry a large number of passengers.
Another model, the Super Cub, was also featured. It had a compact, quiet four-stroke engine and was easy to ride. It was also offered in both 125 cc and 250 cc versions. As with most Honda products, it was available in both standard and optional accessories.
The Super Cub became a success. Its price was affordable and it was fuel efficient. Even in the early 1970s, when the motorcycle industry was stagnant, American Honda had a sales record of more than one hundred units per month. At the same time, they launched a major ad campaign for the new model.
American Honda also sponsored the Academy Awards show. It was the first foreign corporation to do so. Their advertisements ran in top-notch magazines like LIFE and Sports Illustrated.