Honda has been the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer since 1959, as well as the world's largest manufacturer of internal combustion engines measured by volume, producing more than 14 million internal combustion engines each year. Honda became the second-largest Japanese automobile manufacturer in 2001. Honda was the eighth largest automobile manufacturer in the world behind Toyota, Volkswagen Group, Hyundai Motor Group, General Motors, Ford, Nissan, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in 2015.
Honda was the first Japanese automobile manufacturer to release a dedicated luxury brand, Acura, in 1986. Aside from their core automobile and motorcycle businesses, Honda also manufactures garden equipment, marine engines, personal watercraft and power generators, and other products. Since 1986, Honda has been involved with artificial intelligence/robotics research and released their ASIMO robot in 2000. They have also ventured into aerospace with the establishment of GE Honda Aero Engines in 2004 and the Honda HA-420 HondaJet, which began production in 2012. Honda has three joint-ventures in China (Honda China, Dongfeng Honda, and Guangqi Honda).
In 2013, Honda invested about 5.7% (US$6.8 billion) of its revenues in research and development. Also in 2013, Honda became the first Japanese automaker to be a net exporter from the United States, exporting 108,705 Honda and Acura models, while importing only 88,357.
Throughout his life, Honda's founder, Soichiro Honda, had an interest in automobiles. He worked as a mechanic at the Art Shokai garage, where he tuned cars and entered them in races. In 1937, with financing from his acquaintance Kato Shichirō, Honda founded Tōkai Seiki (Eastern Sea Precision Machine Company) to make piston rings working out of the Art Shokai garage. After initial failures, Tōkai Seiki won a contract to supply piston rings to Toyota, but lost the contract due to the poor quality of their products. After attending engineering school without graduating, and visiting factories around Japan to better understand Toyota's quality control processes, by 1941 Honda was able to mass-produce piston rings acceptable to Toyota, using an automated process that could employ even unskilled wartime laborers.:16–19
Tōkai Seiki was placed under control of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (called the Ministry of Munitions after 1943) at the start of World War II, and Soichiro Honda was demoted from president to senior managing director after Toyota took a 40% stake in the company. Honda also aided the war effort by assisting other companies in automating the production of military aircraft propellers. The relationships Honda cultivated with personnel at Toyota, Nakajima Aircraft Company and the Imperial Japanese Navy would be instrumental in the postwar period. A US B-29 bomber attack destroyed Tōkai Seiki's Yamashita plant in 1944, and the Itawa plant collapsed in the 13 January 1945 Mikawa earthquake. Soichiro Honda sold the salvageable remains of the company to Toyota after the war for ¥450,000, and used the proceeds to found the Honda Technical Research Institute in October 1946.