While in Japan for the 2003 Tokyo Motor Show, I was fortunate enough to have been invited to join a group of journalists who were being hosted by American Honda PR. When I learned that their plans involved visits to both the Twin Ring Motegi complex and Honda's R&D center in Tochigi (also known as HGT), my trip to Japan suddenly became a once in a lifetime experience.
Day 1 was reserved for Twin Ring Motegi - We've already shared some of the details and photos from that experience. While the visit to Twin Ring Motegi was absolutely outstanding, day 2 was easily the pinnacle of the entire trip. On this day, I was able to sample some of Honda's finest hardware in their own back yard.
Following a quick breakfast and a short motorcoach ride from the hotel to Tokyo Station, our group boarded the shinkansen (Japan's famous bullet train) bound for Utsonomiya Station (~110km NE). After spending nearly 8 hours of the previous day in a motorcoach, the shinkansen was a real treat. Exceedingly comfortable, smooth, and swift, it's hard to imagine a better way to cover such distance.
We arrived at Utsunomiya Station and once again boarded a pair of motorcoaches. The ride from there to HGT was supposed to take about 15 minutes, but due to some sort of scheduling snafus we motored around in loops around town for around 45 minutes. During our extended drive, it became quickly obvious we were on Honda's home turf, as the roads were swarming with Integra Type Rs, Accord Type Rs, Civic Type Rs, S2000s, and even a surprising number of Beats, not to mention the more practical models (City, Fit, StepWGNs, etc...)
Upon our arrival, we were whisked into one of the main buildings. We were greeted by a Japanese-market Inspire (very similar to the US model Accord) sitting in the building's lobby. We shuffled past the Inspire and up a flight of stairs to a fairly large conference room, where we collected ID badges, a packet of papers, and a green and white Honda cap, just like the ones worn by the Honda associates.
Our Japanese hosts included Mr. Takeo Fukui, President and CEO of Honda Motor Company, Ltd. and Mr. Takanobu Ito, Managing Director of Honda Motor Company, Ltd and President of Honda R&D Co., Ltd. Mr Ito is also in charge of Honda's motorsports efforts.
Mr. Fukui addressed the group first, and it quickly became clear that the emphasis of the day's events would be to showcase Honda's dedictation and leadership role in terms of safety and environmental technology. While these are truly noble pursuits, I must admit that I was hanging on the edge of my seat waiting for any mention of the Type R program or any morsel if information regarding the enthusiast-oriented models. I was feeling a little deflated when there was no such mention.
Following Mr. Fukui's brief remarks, Mr Ito took over and served up a powerpoint presentation. This presentation was very informative, with the title slide listing three key "Technological Concerns": "Real-world Safety", "Environmentally-Friendly", and "Better Dynamics". The third item caught my eye, and things were looking up. As it turns out, the slides that followed went into great detail regarding the first two talking points, but apart from a few comments regarding the benefits of "Better Dynamics" in terms of accident avoidance, that point wasn't really touched.