While touring Germany in the late 1950s, Soichiro Honda, founder of the eponymous brand, witnessed the popularity of lightweight motorcycles. Along with his partner Takeo Fujisawa, they decided the company needed a technologically simple vehicle that would appeal in developed and developing countries for both urban and rural use. It would have to offer simple maintenance without advanced tools or a reliable source of spare parts. Mr. Fujisawa presciently noted it would require one-handed operation so that a driver could carry a tray of soba noodles with an eye towards every noodle shop in Japan wanting one for deliveries.
At this point, Honda Motor was selling 2,000 to 3,000 vehicles per month but it was decided that this new model would sell at a rate of 30,000 monthly. American Honda Motor was established along with sales networks throughout Europe to accommodate this planned sales blitz. And so, the Honda Super Cub was born with an air-cooled 50 cc four-stroke, unusual-for-the-time plastic fairing and 17” wheels to make it stable on rough roads. Turns out, Mr. Honda and Mr. Fujisawa were dead on in their sales plans. The Super Cub line of motorbikes has sold over 100 million units as of 2017 making it the most produced motor vehicle in history.
For export markets like North America and Britain, the Super Cub name changed to C50 to avoid trademark issues with the likes of Piper Super Cub airplanes and Triumph Tiger Cub motorcycles. Marketed under the “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” campaign for more than a decade in the US, the C50 moped stepped outside motorcycle marketing norms of the time by featuring upbeat images of respectably dressed folks and, in particular, women. Combined with Beach Boys songs like Little Honda and product positioning as a simple consumer appliance, the Honda Super Cub arguably invented lifestyle marketing and set the brand up for decades of success in North America.