Happy Accidents #037 - Honda

Staggering Sales from a Serendipitous Surprise!

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In the 2023 fiscal year Honda sold over 18.7 million motorcycles worldwide. They’re a major player in the industry.

And a significant portion of Honda’s motorcycle sales historically come from their smaller models a trend they never originally planned for.

Their success in selling these compact bikes in the US was, in fact, a complete accident that dates back to a crazy incident from the 1960’s.

And it’s a great story…

Let's dig in, shall we?


This is the part of every Happy Accident story where we see every successful outcome starts with the person putting themselves in a favorable position. They work hard, they try new things, they meet new people. They're not just sitting around 'hoping' to be successful some day.

Honda’s history traces back to its foundation in 1948 by Soichiro Honda.

Initially established as a small company focused on producing motorized bicycles, Honda rapidly grew into an influential player in the automotive industry.

By the 1960s, the company gained international recognition with the launch of the Honda Civic, a compact and fuel-efficient car that appealed to a broad audience.

This success marked the beginning of Honda's global expansion and innovation, leading to the introduction of other popular models like the Accord and CR-V.

Throughout its history, Honda has been acclaimed for its commitment to quality, engineering excellence, and pioneering advancements in hybrid technology, solidifying its reputation as one of the world's leading automobile manufacturers.

But during the early 1960’s the U.S. motorcycle market was dominated by a small number of companies, most notably Harley-Davidson and Triumph. To penetrate the market, Honda attempted to copy the competition by producing large bikes but offering them at a lower price point.

Their plan failed, but produced an unexpected positive surprise.

So, what happened?


This is the part of every success story where there's a chance encounter, a serendipitous moment, an unintentional discovery (or Happy Accident) that paves the way for the next steps. In some cases, a Happy Accident can even be disguised as something bad in the moment.

As Honda was promoting their larger bikes (and failing miserably), something intriguing unfolded.

Many Honda staff members in Los Angeles found themselves using the smaller scooters (the Super Cub) for their daily commutes. Passersby couldn't help but notice, and the small scooters began to attract attention like wildfire.

People were clamoring for the cool little bikes they were seeing all around town. Sears even approached Honda to ask if they could sell the Super Cub bikes in their catalogue.

Ultimately, Honda’s management realized that a better strategy had fallen right in their laps. They had discovered an entirely new customer base.

Now, they needed to shift gears (pardon the pun) and capitalize on this Happy Accident.


Just like Happy Accidents don't just fall into your lap (you need to set the stage first), they also don't turn into anything if you don't recognize them and take action. This is the part of every success story where we see people capitalizing on their Happy Accident.

Recognizing the unexpected popularity of the smaller models, the company swiftly pivoted, focusing their marketing efforts on the compact bikes.

The original marketing plan for the bigger bikes was thrown out the window. It was time to follow the trail of serendipity and see where it would lead.

It worked. Sales of the smaller scooters took off, accounting for a massive increase and cementing Honda a major player in the market.

The lesson here reverberates through history: meticulous planning only goes so far.

The most renowned brands, including giants like Honda, owe a significant portion of their success to moments of chance, serendipity, and timely alignment.

But they had to be open, willing, and ready to capitalize on this unexpected good fortune.

When man plans, it's often said, God laughs. The path to achievement isn't always linear; there’s often a sprinkle of magic when we least expect it.


Honda's unexpectedly high sales of smaller scooters in North America, in the 1960’s, were a result of unintended circumstances.

Originally focused on larger motorcycles, Honda staff using smaller scooters caught public attention, prompting Honda to shift their strategy to market these compact models, leading to their successful sales surge.

This sales triumph illustrates how unexpected events and open-mindedness can shape business outcomes positively.


I came across this fun story while reading Mastering Uncertainty by Matt Watkinson and Csaba Konkoly (I highly recommend this book!)

Some fun facts:

  • Honda's first production car was the T360, a mini-truck that debuted in 1963. It featured a small 356 cc engine and was designed for efficient transportation.

  • Before making cars, Honda started as a motorcycle manufacturer. Their first motorcycle, the Honda Dream, was introduced in 1949 and played a significant role in establishing the company's reputation for reliability and innovation.

  • Honda has had its moments in Formula One racing. Their engines powered teams to multiple championships in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including legendary driver Ayrton Senna's successes.

  • In 2014, Honda's "Mean Mower" set a Guinness World Record for being the fastest lawnmower, reaching speeds of around 116 mph (187 km/h).

The lessons here:

  1. Flexibility in Strategy: Honda's ability to pivot its strategy based on unexpected success teaches us the importance of being flexible in our business plans. While having a well-defined strategy is essential, being open to adapting and exploring new avenues can lead to unexpected opportunities.

  2. Listening to Customers: The success of Honda's smaller scooters stemmed from their staff using them for personal transportation. This highlights the value of listening to customers and observing their behaviors to identify potential market trends or needs that might not be apparent through traditional market research.

  3. Embracing Serendipity: Sometimes, the best opportunities arise unexpectedly. Honda's success with scooters was a result of noticing the attention they garnered in everyday use. Embracing serendipitous moments and being willing to shift focus can lead to fruitful outcomes.

  4. Capitalizing on Trends: Identifying emerging trends and capitalizing on them can give a business a competitive edge. Honda noticed the growing interest in smaller scooters and quickly redirected their efforts to meet the demand, showcasing the importance of staying attuned to market shifts.

YOUR Happy Accidents

Check out this post on LinkedIn from David Domzalski about how a his unique messaging unexpectedly caught the attention of an editor at Forbes magazine.

Hey, Dennis Geelen here. Author of the Happy Accidents newsletter.

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