Honda co-founder Takeo Fujisawa has been inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame, the Detroit-area shrine to prominent auto-industry figures.
Fujisawa was the business partner of Soichiro Honda and was instrumental in building Honda into a successful company. While Honda supplied the ideas, Fujisawa brought a pragmatic business sense to the operation.
Born on November 10, 1910, Fujisawa originally thought of becoming a teacher but ended up as a salesmen for a steel products company and then a lumber company. He met Honda in 1949, about one year after he founded his eponymous company, which then was a small operation in the Japanese city of Hamamatsu. The company was just transitioning from making small engines for mounting on bicycle frames to making complete motorcycles, having just launched the Dream D-Type.
Despite different personalities (Fujisawa was much more reserved than Honda), the two hit it off. Fujisawa formally joined Honda in October of 1949 as Honda’s right-hand man, responsible for sales, finance, and marketing. He helped steer Honda, who maintained control of product development and engineering, making several crucial decisions to grow the company.
One of those decisions was the 1959 establishment of American Honda, the company’s first overseas branch, something Soichiro Honda wasn’t initially enthusiastic about. He hoped to build the company’s reputation mainly through motorsports, but Fujisawa thought it was more important to enter the U.S. market, declaring that “to succeed in the U.S. is to succeed worldwide.”
Fujisawa also insisted that Honda establish its own U.S. dealer network (initially selling motorcycles and later cars), rather than rely on an importer, as most other Japanese companies were doing at the time. In 1960 he also established Honda R&D as a separate company, ensuring that research would be separately funded and wouldn’t have to rely on the volatile car and motorcycle market.
Honda and Fujisawa agreed to retire together, which they did in March 1973. Fujisawa died in December 1998.
Located next to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, the Automotive Hall of Fame was founded in 1939 to honor individuals who have had a significant impact on the auto industry. It includes not only automaker founders like Ferruccio Lamborghini, but also enthusiasts like Jay Leno and concours organizer Helene Rother. Fujisawa will be formally inducted in July 2023.
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