Honda has been the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer since 1959, as well as the world's largest manufacturer of internal combustion engines measured by volume, producing more than 14 million internal combustion engines each year. Honda surpassed Nissan in 2001 to become the second-largest Japanese automobile manufacturer. As of August 2008[update], Honda surpassed Chrysler as the fourth largest automobile manufacturer in the United States. Honda is the sixth largest automobile manufacturer in the world.
Honda was the first Japanese automobile manufacturer to release a dedicated luxury brand, Acura, in 1986. Aside from their core automobile and motorcycle businesses, Honda also manufactures garden equipment, marine engines, personal watercraft and power generators, amongst others. Since 1986, Honda has been involved with artificial intelligence/robotics research and released their ASIMO robot in 2000. They have also ventured into aerospace with the establishment of GE Honda Aero Engines in 2004 and the Honda HA-420 HondaJet, scheduled to be released in 2011. Honda spends about 5% of its revenues into R&D.
From a young age, Honda's founder, Soichiro Honda had a great interest in automobiles. He worked as a mechanic at a Japanese tuning shop, Art Shokai, where he tuned cars and entered them in races. A self-taught engineer, he later worked on a piston design which he hoped to sell to Toyota. The first drafts of his design were rejected, and Soichiro worked painstakingly to perfect the design, even going back to school and pawning his wife's jewelry for collateral. Eventually, he won a contract with Toyota and built a factory to construct pistons for them, which was destroyed in an earthquake. Due to a gasoline shortage during World War II, Honda was unable to use his car, and his novel idea of attaching a small engine to his bicycle attracted much curiosity. He then established the Honda Technical Research Institute in Hamamatsu, Japan, to develop and produce small 2-cycle motorbike engines. Calling upon 18,000 bicycle shop owners across Japan to take part in revitalizing a nation torn apart by war, Soichiro received enough capital to engineer his first motorcycle, the Honda Cub. This marked the beginning of Honda Motor Company, which would grow a short time later to be the world's largest manufacturer of motorcycles by 1964.
The first production automobile from Honda was the T360 mini pick-up truck, which went on sale in August 1963. Powered by a small 356 cc straight-4 gasoline engine, it was classified under the cheaper Kei car tax bracket. The first production car from Honda was the S500 sports car, which followed the T360 into production in October 1963. Its chain driven rear wheels point to Honda's motorcycle origins.