So PH found a translator and sat down with Iwaki-san, the designer of both the Urban EV and the Sports EV, to discuss the production versions of those cars, as well as how Honda design might evolve alongside autonomous cars and increased connectivity. Bring on 2019...
"It was a really rational process, because we really wanted to just create a battery driven, electric car. A small car, definitely. So you have some key elements to start with: it was always going to be a battery EV, a concept car, we were working with these kind of conditions. And this is what we came up with! So a rational process."
So the production car is on the way - what will be the most difficult aspect of the concept car to make it to production?
"Actually the development of the production vehicle came first, and then came the concept. That's why there's no element that will be especially for the production version. Having said that, because it's a concept, we made a few little changes; for example the tyres are a little bit bigger, and the car is lower than it would be in production."
"So, as I said before, the development of the production Urban EV came before the concept car - we were working on them at the same time. Actually I had the chance to drive a prototype of the Urban EV; as I was driving the prototype I thought it was quite fun, so really that inspired me to think, 'what would happen if I turned it into a dedicated sports version?'. And that was the start."
The cars are quite traditional in their appearance; is that a simpler design task than creating something futuristic, because you have the old cars to draw influence from?
"Actually, it would be easier for us to create a really futuristic design, because we can really start from scratch. So it was actually more challenging for us to create a, let's say, traditional design. Because my goal was to create a design that was approachable - likeable, in another word - which will nicely blend into the everyday lives of the customers."
"With a battery EV, people typically expect that they're going to see something new, something unconventional. So it was difficult for us to kind of break through that mental barrier."
How do you think interior design will change as buyers demand more connectivity and autonomy becomes more prevalent?
"So far as the autonomous driving technologies are concerned, these technologies will not really have so much influence on interior design. However, the connectivity will have a larger influence because we are planning on using AI technology which means that the system can take over many of the operations. So the interior design will be much more simple, because we don't need all of those switches."
And then in terms of exterior design, as cars move towards autonomy and ride sharing, does that affect how individual the design of cars is as ownership reduces?
"So the direction you mention is really justifiable, as when ride sharing increases, some cars will be specifically designed for that purpose. If that's the case then you will really have to appeal to those types of customers, so design will need to be less characteristic. So it doesn't have to have a distinctive character. With these two concepts, I'd rather aim to appeal to the emotional customers, that's why I made it approachable and likeable. That's the direction I like, actually."
"The importance of design holds for battery EVs, hybrids and combustion engined cars - it's always a priority. But the challenge was in the expectations people have of battery EVs: 'Ah, this is an EV, so it must look like this.' I wanted really to put it aside, so that's why we had a more rational approach to the battery EV design."
Is there anything else that you would like added to the Honda EV family, besides these two?
"While we have no specific plan for production of the Sports EV, I think it would be interesting to design a utility vehicle; one with a much larger cabin, or something specifically developed for outdoor use."
Where do you see the biggest growth coming in EVs over the coming years? Is there a specific sector?
"Perhaps the current segment for SUVs might see really a big growth of the EV share."