A special message Honda Vice President Ben Knight
Honda has adopted a global environmental slogan — Blue Skies for Our Children — to inspire our company to achieve new targets we have established to reduce CO2 emissions from our products and the operations that produce them. These words arouse strong emotions in Honda engineers, and take me back to a time four decades ago when the same phrase served as the rallying cry for Honda’s first effort to tackle a challenging environmental issue.
I joined Honda as a young engineer in 1976. What attracted me, as with so many Honda customers and fans, was a brand that showed a can-do spirit in creating something the rest of the auto industry argued couldn’t be done – a vehicle with cleaner emissions and high fuel economy that was also fun to drive.
This vehicle was the Honda Civic – and it had something else that was truly revolutionary — CVCC engine technology, for Compound Vortex Combustion Controlled. That’s a mouthful of complex engineering, but what CVCC helped create is simpler — a lean burn engine that made Civic the first car to meet the stringent tailpipe emissions standards of the U.S. Clean Air Act without the need for after treatment of the exhaust. The Civic CVCC was also #1 on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) very first list of the most fuel efficient vehicles in America.
Based on his own belief in the importance of advancing mobility to address the issue of environmental sustainability, Honda founder Soichiro Honda pulled our company out of Formula One racing in 1969 in order to devote Honda’s full engineering resources to developing advanced environmental technologies. He then challenged Honda engineers to create a cleaner-burning engine to address air pollution – which was then the most serious environmental sustainability issue facing the automobile industry.
Honda engineers were reading reports about the serious impact pollution would have on the health of children. A group of doctors in Japan published a report about high levels of lead in the blood streams of children. The Club of Rome, founded in Italy in April 1968 by a small international group of academics, scientists, government and industry leaders, focused global attention on negative environmental consequences, forecasting limits to human expansion within less than 100 years if no major change in society occurred. In 1970, Congress passed the 1970 Clean Air Act, creating stringent new emissions standards and the U.S. government created the EPA.
Mr. Honda saw this as a great way to compete against more established companies. But Honda engineers suggested that their real motivation and goal was to ensure “Blue Skies for Our Children,” in other words, to ensure the future of mobility and the health of the planet for future generations. This phrase became the team’s rallying cry in the effort to find and develop technology that could improve air quality.
Mr. Honda was proud that his engineers had looked at this challenge as more than a competitive challenge. With a great deal of passion and energy, the team of Honda engineers addressed the challenge of sustainable mobility. And this led to the breakthrough with the CVCC engine that powered the Honda Civic. When I learned of these events, it helped deepen my appreciation that the purpose of our technology was to help people and society. That certainly made Honda a company I wanted to contribute my best efforts to.
In the ensuing years, Honda continued to advance its engine technologies. Over the past four decades, we led the global auto industry in meeting a series of increasingly stringent tailpipe emissions requirements, starting with the first gasoline-powered Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) in the hands of consumers, sparking an era of fundamental improvements to air quality. Of course, we were proud to be first, but Honda’s strategy for reducing emissions was something of our gift to the world. We provided the auto industry with a practical and economical pathway to reducing exhaust emissions on a broad scale that no one thought possible. At the same time, we have been a consistent leader in fuel-efficiency, topping fuel-economy rankings for 22 of the past 36 years
Today, the challenge of environmental sustainability is much broader than air pollution – encompassing numerous energy and environmental issues, including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (primarily CO2) that contribute to global climate change and the transition from fossil fuels to renewable forms of energy, among other issues.
But I am excited that Honda’s environmental vision to pursue the joy of mobility and a sustainable society where people can enjoy life continues to be inspired by the original rallying cry of Honda engineers – something that Honda associates throughout our company embrace on a daily basis. Once again, our effort to achieve a challenging target to reduce CO2 emissions is guided by our mission to leave “Blue Skies for Our Children.”
Honda R&D Americas, Inc.