Honda DNA June 18th, 2021

How Honda Found and Made a Home in Malaysia

7 mins read

Get to know the journey from the very start

Did you know about the history of the Honda that you drive? Honda’s first arrival onto Malaysian shores was thanks to the far-sighted Tan Sri Loh Boon Siew, who saw the potential of a robust automotive industry back then in Malaya, 1958.

As fate would have it, the ever-entrepreneurial late Tan Sri Loh visited the Land of the Rising Sun. At this point of time, post-war Japan was riding on a wave of growth and innovation, doubling its GDP in less than a decade. What really caught this former mechanic apprentice’s eyes were these incredibly popular small motorcycles and the engine sound that came off them. The sound of the engine really impressed him, and the late Tan Sri Loh saw this as an opportunity for him to revolutionise the transport industry back home, so he sought after the maker of these Honda cub motorcycles.

After doing his best to convince the late Mr. Soichiro Honda of his idea—which was no small feat, as the two did not share a common language—the late Tan Sri Loh successfully became one of the first overseas distributors for Honda motorcycles, opening its first showroom in Pitt Street, Penang. A few years later in 1969, Kah Motors Sdn Bhd was born, which would later flourish into Oriental Holdings Berhad, the national assembler for Honda cars in Malaysia.

At the turn of the millennium, Oriental Holdings and DRB-HICOM Berhad went into a joint venture with Honda to take it to the next level: Launching the Melaka Manufacturing Plant, kicking it off with a ground-breaking ceremony. This has brought significant development to the population in the area, as Melaka saw great infrastructure upgrade culminating in the opening of the Alor Gajah-Melaka Tengah-Jasin (AMJ) Highway. Prior to this, the roads were mostly made of single lane roads, even up until the Simpang Ampat tollgates.

Then, the Port Klang Parts Centre was built, further highlighting on Honda’s healthy spirit of competition. With safety at the forefront of Honda’s practices, the Parts Centre was created to ensure the consistent supply of genuine Honda parts and promote brand loyalty.

Towards the end of the fruitful year, the Melaka Manufacturing Plant rose to greater heights when it became the fourth Constant Velocity Joint (CVJ) components factory in the world for Honda. The CVJ components made here were not only for cars assembled in Malaysia, but also for other assemblers in the region, such as India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines and Thailand. By September 2002, the name DRB-Oriental-Honda Sdn Bhd officially changed to Honda Malaysia Sdn Bhd to portray a more unified local front. With one success after another, in early 2003, the Melaka Manufacturing Plant would eventually assemble the Honda City, Honda Civic, Honda Accord and Honda CR‑V by the end of that year.

To assist in forming Honda Malaysia, Mr. Seiji Kuraishi was chosen as the second Managing Director and CEO of Honda Malaysia, where he had transferred from Asian Honda Motor in Thailand to Malaysia. The Melaka Manufacturing Plant’s opening ceremony was an interesting event for Mr. Kuraishi, as the Former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad officiated the event. Although part of the speech began in Bahasa Malaysia, he switched over to English when he addressed Honda Malaysia, enthusiastically addressing the crowd. Mr. Kuraishi recalled feeling awed and respected because he believed it was essential to have a mutual understanding of culture and belief between Honda and Malaysia.

The first car that was manufactured by the Melaka Manufacturing Plant was the Honda CR-V, and it was met with cheers and enthusiastic cries as the Honda associates proudly took pictures with the first Honda CR-V. Looking at the palpable excitement, Mr. Kuraishi was reminded of Honda’s Three Joys, one of which was the ‘Joy of Creating’. It brought him back to the experience he had at American Honda Motor, where the US counterparts took similar pictures of the first Honda Accord made in their factory. This propelled him to introduce motorsports to Honda Malaysia, which led to the formation of the Honda Malaysia Racing Team (HMRT). The team took part in the Merdeka Millennium Endurance Race (MMER) and were crowned Class A winners in 2003, 2004 and 2005. To top it all off, the HMRT Civic was crowned overall winner in 2004, beating an Italian supercar just moments before the race ended.

The race cars were also put on display at the 2003 Kuala Lumpur International Motor Show, where the public feasted their eyes on the physical marvel. The line-up included the spectacular MMER Class A winner, Honda-Kunimitsu DC5 Integra Type-R, and the No. 18 Japan GT Championship Takata NSX.

2004 came around, and Honda Malaysia kept striving for excellence. This was a year where Malaysians were introduced to a whole new slew of Honda makes: The compact‑yet‑spacious Honda Jazz, Honda Civic, the award-winning Honda Odyssey, Honda Stream and the crowd-favourite Honda City. Each model was uniquely improved to meet the various needs of the local consumers that are on the hunt for quality cars with reasonable prices. It was definitely a year that Honda gained a sure footing in the local automotive market.

Mr. Kuraishi’s successor, Mr. Yasuhide Mizuno, came to Malaysia to assume the mantle in 2005 as the third Managing Director and CEO of Honda Malaysia. Mr. Mizuno shared similar values with his predecessor, saying, “Mr. Kuraishi had launched many new things for Honda Malaysia, which needed more room to grow and bloom.”

In an effort to honour Mr. Kuraishi’s work, which was to inculcate Honda’s ‘Racing Spirit’ locally, Mr. Mizuno strived to launch the Honda Civic Type-R. It was a model that he found to be fit for Honda’s advanced technology, and it launched right after his departure from Honda Malaysia. His parting wish was for Honda Malaysia to hold on to the ‘Challenging Spirit’ to keep ahead of the competition. The two short years in Malaysia were exciting for him, but he’s still on the lookout for the latest news on the company.

These have only been the first five years of Honda Malaysia. Find out more on how through Mr. Atsushi Fujimoto and the late Mr. Toru Takahashi, Honda Malaysia became the leading non-national car brand in Malaysia in our next chapter. Stay tuned!