When most of us think of Honda’s founding, we think of the Japanese juggernaut’s namesake—Soichiro Honda. However, there was another essential ingredient in the Honda recipe, and one that changed motorcycling in America—Takeo Fujisawa. Recognizing Fujisawa’s contribution to motoring, he has been inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in Detroit.
Fujisawa was a salesman at a lumber company in August 1949 when he met Honda, who had founded Honda Motor a year earlier in Hamamatsu. The Honda Dream D-Type, the first legitimate motorcycle from the company, was brand new. The two hit it off, and two months later, Fujisawa became Honda’s right-hand man at Honda Motor.
With Honda taking care of product design, development, and manufacturing, Fujisawa focused on business and marketing responsibilities.
In 1959, Fujisawa was Honda’s Senior Managing Director, and he made the decision to expand Honda beyond Japan. After considering entering Asian markets, Fujisawa picked America to be Honda Motor’s first foreign subsidiary.
“To succeed in the U.S. is to succeed worldwide,” Fujisawa observed at the time. “To take up the challenge of the American market may be the most difficult thing to do, but it’s a critical step in expanding the export of our products.”
With that, American Honda was created. Instead of following the standard practice of working with an American importer, American Honda developed its own dealer network in the United States. It only took until the mid-1960s for Honda to top the American motorcycle sales charts.
Fujisawa also spearheaded the move to create Honda R&D as a stand-alone company. The goal was to give engineers a place to work on future innovations, rather than working on short-term production challenges. This was done to prepare Honda Motor for the inevitable retirement of development genius Soichiro Honda.
In March 1973, Soichiro Honda and Takeo Fujisawa retired simultaneously, having worked together for nearly a quarter-century. Fujisawa died in 1988, and Honda Motor Company Chairman Seiji Kuraishi attended the Automotive Hall of Fame induction as a representative of the Fujisawa family. “The spirit and vision of Takeo Fujisawa continues to guide Honda,” said Kuraishi. “Our business in America may have started with the Super Cub motorcycle, but due to his vision, it continues with new types of mobility, including the HondaJet.”