Honda is ending 2019 on a high note. The Japanese company has spent the year celebrating the 70th birthday of the Dream D-Type, the first true motorcycle it mass-produced, and it sold its 400 millionth two-wheeler five short years after reaching the 300 million milestone.
Dabbling in motorized bicycles showed company founder Soichiro Honda that there existed a market for a basic, reliable, efficient, and cheap motorcycle capable of putting post-World War II Japan on wheels. The Dream D-Type (shown above) stood out as Honda's first real motorcycle; the C-Type that came before it still had bicycle-like pedals, so it tilted more towards the moped end of the scale. Power came from a 98cc, single-cylinder two-stroke engine that made precisely three horsepower.
The rest, as they say, is history. 70 years later, Honda's catalog of two-wheelers includes small models like the emblematic Cub, the funky Monkey, and the Metropolitan scooter, adventure-ready bikes such as the Africa Twin, cruisers, and Ducati-rivaling supersports.
Expanding into new segments has allowed Honda to increase production at a stunning speed in recent years. It sold its 10 millionth motorcycle in 1968, and it reached the 50 million threshold in 1984. The 100 million, 200 million and 300 million milestones were reached in 1997, 2008, and 2014, respectively. It took Honda 48 years to sell its first 100 million bikes; it took just five years to sell its most recent 100 million.
Honda manufactured 20.82 million motorcycles during the 2019 fiscal year, and most remained in Asia. Of those, 28.2% (5.88 million units) were sold on the Indian market, while Indonesia absorbed 5.16 million examples. Vietnam, Thailand, China and other Asian nations were in third, fourth, fifth and sixth place, respectively. 1.05 million motorcycles were registered in Latin America, while the remaining 620,000 two-wheelers were spread out around the globe, including in the United States, in Australia, and in the 28 countries that make up the European Union.
Most of Honda's motorcycles are built in the country they're sold in. The company took its production network out of Japan for the first time when it inaugurated a plant in Belgium in 1963. Now 56 years later, its latticework of factories includes 35 facilities in 21 countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, Nigeria, China, and Vietnam, among others. In Ohio, it manufactured motorcycles before making cars.
America isn't one of Honda's biggest motorcycle markets — it's not even close — but it played an important role in helping the company establish itself as a credible player in the global two-wheeler segment. It sent the first bike to our shores in 1959, and it purchased a fleet of Chevrolet Apache pickup trucks to deliver vehicles to customers and dealers. Models like the CB160 were the gateway drug that generations of American enthusiasts took to become life-long riders.
As part of its birthday celebrations, Honda restored a 1961 Apache powered by a 283-cubic-inch small-block V8 (pictured) and had it painted exactly like the delivery trucks it used when first gained a foothold in the United States. The better-than-new pickup basked in the spotlight at several car events in 2019, including the SEMA show and The Quail, a Motorsports Gathering in California.