Of all the Japanese carmakers, Honda has always been a bit of an oddity. They were neither an offshoot of a powerful industrial group like Mitsubishi, Mazda or Subaru, nor were they an established vehicle manufacturing concern like Nissan, Toyota or Isuzu. They grew out of a motorcycle maker who was not MITI-certified or part of the old boys club. Maybe that’s why they became the most American of all Japanese carmakers.
That’s not to say that Honda dominate the US market. There is also Toyota, and there’s still Nissan. But those two are truly global. Honda cars, on the other hand, are not commonly seen outside Japan, certain Asian countries and North America. In Europe, the marque has always been very discreet. Their market share was 1.2% in 1980, but 40 years on it’s only 0.8%, compared to over 10% in the States and Japan. In certain global markets such as Africa, Russia or South America, Honda cars (as opposed to bikes) are not very popular either, contrary to Toyota and Nissan, though the firm’s footprint in the Asia-Pacific region beyond its home market is significant.
That’s not to say that Honda didn’t try. They followed the usual strategy and opened assembly lines in both America and Europe (well, the UK, which technically was in Europe back then), but not on the same scale. The US plant became one of Honda’s essential assets in a way that the British one, which incidentally is set to close later this year, never really did. By the time this generation of Accords arrived on the scene, Honda had become at least partially American and the US plant was tasked with producing wagons for the whole world, Japan included.
And I guess this Accord wagon, proudly claiming its heritage on its flanks, illustrates the strangely symbiotic relationship that Honda has with their number one foreign market. They literally slapped a big “Honda of America” badge on this thing, complete with golden eagle, just to underline the point. What it lacked in subtlety, it made up for in crude symbolism. Kind of like George Bush senior blowing chunks on the Japanese PM during a state dinner.
Back in the ‘80s, selling foreign-made Japanese cars on the JDM was a groundbreaking concept. Not completely unheard of (the Mitsubishi Eclipse comes to mind), but quite novel nonetheless, as the Eclipse was a niche PLC, not a family wagon like this Accord. Honda was not the only Japanese carmaker to have a turned to America as their main country of adoption, but they’ve done it more successfully than most. Subaru are in a very similar position, i.e. straddling the Pacific, but nowhere near Honda in terms of volume. Mitsubishi once tried to be that way too, but the Chrysler tie-up ended in tears. Isuzu went further and became partially owned by an American company for many years, but quit passenger cars altogether.
Despite their good reputation, Accords of this generation
(1987-91) (MY 1990-1993) are getting quite scarce on Japanese roads. This one is a bit worse for wear – more so that the usual old cars I’ve been catching here, but it’s not like immortal Nissan Cedric/Gloria or Toyota Mark II wagons, which are still a dime a dozen.
I don’t know how many imported into Japan to start off with, but the yen was kind of low at that point in time, so shipping them over from the other side of the Pacific must have made some sort of economic sense. The Japanese economy was booming back then, so perhaps this did somewhat reduce the (im)balance of trade with the United States. It was a nice gesture either way and hasn’t hindered Honda’s growth in the slightest, as they are now pretty much tied with Nissan as Japan’s second carmaker (which also says a lot about Nissan, but that’s another topic).
Tired though it may be, I’m glad to have found an illustration of how American Honda was, even 30-odd years ago, and remains today: the most US-centric Japanese car marque. I’ve only seen a handful of old Accords about, but then I don’t notice these much in saloon form. As a wagon though, they do have a bit more cachet. Must be the golden eagle effect.
Curbside Classic: 1990 Honda Accord – Naturalized Citizen, by Perry Shoar
COAL: 1990 Honda Accord EX – My First Car, by Kyree S. Williams
COAL: 1990 Honda Accord LX – Sublime Perfection, by Len Peters
COAL: 1991 Honda Accord LX – A Game Changer, by MDLaughlin