honda e honda engine room

From Concept to Production

The Honda e is nearly ready to hit the road. Drivers have started placing deposits and excitement is growing. But how did this ground-breaking compact electric car come to be so innovative?

Come behind the scenes and meet the people who helped create it and the logic that dictated its design and realisation.

The Honda e is nearly ready to hit the road. Drivers have started placing deposits and excitement is growing. But how did this ground-breaking compact electric car come to be so innovative?

Come behind the scenes and meet the people who helped create it and the logic that dictated its design and realisation.

Some commentators have described the Honda e as an ‘iPhone moment for cars’, suggesting the compact electric car could do for Honda what the iPhone did for Apple. Yet the project struggled to get off the ground.

Kohei Hitomi is the manager responsible for leading the Honda e project. He had to fight for the freedom to develop a compact electric car.

“The biggest battle was internal,” Hitomi explains. “Many people, including management, had the opinion that to advance market share of electric vehicles, it is essential to overcome the negatives, the drawbacks of an electric vehicle, which is driving range.

To cover that, people were keen to put in a bigger battery. A bigger battery automatically means a bigger car, and a bigger car means a more expensive car. To say ‘no, we want a small car’ didn’t fit in their minds, and that was the resistance."

What’s in a Name?

When it came to naming the Honda e, the team wanted to make a clear distinction which represents a major milestone in the ‘electric vision’ strategy for Honda in Europe. For customers in Europe, ‘e’ has a connotation with an electric powertrain, so the point was to come up with a name that was instantly recognisable.

A Clean-Sheet Design

After winning over Honda executives, Hitomi and his team found they had a huge amount of freedom because the Honda e was designed from a clean sheet of paper.

Everything about it would be new and unique to the innovative electric car.

Within this huge degree of freedom, we had to define our targets. That was really a big challenge. When looking back now, it surely was one of the biggest tasks I had.

Seeing a convergence of challenges that combine to make up a 'once in a century moment' – environmental change, technical evolution, acceleration of electric vehicles and the growth of MaaS (mobility as a service), all while urban populations continue to grow – the team set out to create the next generation of urban commuter vehicle, one that embodies what a small Honda should be.

Small but Perfectly Formed

Because it’s envisaged as an electric car for urban environments, albeit one with the ability to venture beyond city limits, the Honda e is compact. In fact, at 3.89 metres, it’s not much longer than a Honda Jazz.

Which Came First: The Concept or the Production Car?

Hitomi says that although there was a concept car – the Honda Urban EV prototype – which would ordinarily be created before the production model, for the first time Honda started with the production car and then later created the concept.

“As far as I know, it’s never been done before at Honda. There are some aspects we have actually transported from the concept car because of the highly positive feedback from drivers.”

Good Times are Coming

The new platform places the battery around the middle of the car and the electric motor in the back, where it drives the rear wheels.

Hitomi explains this helps a car get a good standing start because it places the weight over the rear wheels and helps it be agile and manoeuvrable.

“If you have a rear-wheel-drive car, your front wheels are free. This enables a much greater angle for turning. This means a much smaller turning radius on the front wheels.”

Sounds like a formula for fun to us.

Honda has plenty of experience making small fun cars. Models such as the S600 from 1964 and the Beat of 1991 were critically acclaimed.

Honda Beat: Image by Andrew Bone from Weymouth, England. CC BY 2.0.

Honda Beat: Image by Andrew Bone from Weymouth, England. CC BY 2.0.

Bringing the Power

The Panasonic battery can be charged using either Type 2 AC connection or a CCS2 DC rapid charger, a system increasingly being adopted by European manufacturers due its stability after initial software concerns were identified and rectified in collaboration with manufacturers. The DC rapid charging function enables 80%* range to be added in 30 minutes, using a 100kW DC Rapid Charging function. Using 50kW DC rapid charging the Honda e will charge to 80%* in just over 30 minutes.

*80% charge from when warning light for low charge comes on.

Based on proven Honda technology, the battery will have a range of more than 200km/125 miles (WLTP) and is water-cooled and heated to maintain an optimum thermal state, therefore maximising the efficiency of the battery and charge state.

Honda has plenty of experience making small fun cars. Models such as the S600 from 1964 and the Beat of 1991 were critically acclaimed.

Honda Beat: Image by Andrew Bone from Weymouth, England. CC BY 2.0.

Honda Beat: Image by Andrew Bone from Weymouth, England. CC BY 2.0.

Bringing the Power

The Panasonic battery can be charged using either Type 2 AC connection or a CCS2 DC rapid charger, a system increasingly being adopted by European manufacturers due its stability after initial software concerns were identified and rectified in collaboration with manufacturers. The DC rapid charging function enables 80%* range to be added in 30 minutes, using a 100kW DC Rapid Charging function. Using 50kW DC rapid charging the Honda e will charge to 80%* in just over 30 minutes.

*80% Charge from when warning light for low charge comes on.

Based on proven Honda technology, the battery will have a range of more than 200km/125 miles (WLTP) and is water-cooled and heated to maintain an optimum thermal state, therefore maximising the efficiency of the battery and charge state.

Ken Sahara, the designer with responsibility for sculpting the body shape of the new electric car, stresses that it is modern through and through – with a ‘noiseless’ design language that is refreshingly different to anything else on the road.

“It's very interesting; some people say it looks futuristic and some people say it's retro. I didn't try to make this car retro.”

Around the trailing edge of the back door, Sahara says there is some influence from the original Honda Civic. And on a practical note, he points out that having four doors makes it easier to get in and out of the car because the doors are shorter than a two-door car.

Honda’s compact fully electric vehicle embodies the brand’s vision for simplicity in urban mobility, designed without compromise – focusing on functionality and ease of use, resulting in a simple, clean exterior with a unique design. The team wanted to create a contemporary feel, using quality materials with a minimalist aesthetic.

Evolution from Concept to ProtOType

The main differences between the concept and the prototype is the change to five doors for greater practicality, but otherwise changes are mainly due to having to meet regulations, market acceptance and production viability.

Most of the stand-out features (the Side Camera Mirror System, flush door handles, simple and clean styling, sporty stance, full width touchscreen display) are retained from the Urban EV Concept. The e Prototype is 95% close to what the final production vehicle will look like.

Why the Charging Point Became a Talking Point

You wouldn’t make the fuel filler cap the focal point of a petrol or diesel car. Yet with the Honda e, that’s exactly what Sahara has done: the car’s electric status is celebrated by placing the charging port in the middle of the bonnet.

“That's the point of this design,” explains Sahara, “because this is a symbol of EVs. You don't charge a gasoline car every day but with an EV, the customer is charging every day.”

The charging port cover is made from glass, rather than plastic, says Sahara, because glass looks better and feels nicer to the touch. Also, from a practical point of view the positioning of the charging port allows easy access from the front of the car or from either side and LED lighting is visible through a glass panel to illuminate the port for the driver and highlight the battery charging status.

And for those of you concerned about the rain – there are outlets in the charging port which allow the water to be drained in wet weather conditions.

Magic Mirrors

Cameras will replace conventional wing mirrors on the Honda e. Why? For starters, they’re small, which means less drag through the air – helping the Honda e be as efficient as possible, says Sahara.

The compact cameras reduce aerodynamic drag by around 90% compared to conventional door mirrors – an approximate 3.8% improvement for the entire vehicle that benefits the car’s efficiency and range. As a result, wind noise usually experienced around wing mirrors is reduced, improving interior refinement.

The camera unit housings are deliberately shaped to prevent water drops on the lens, with a water-repellent coating on the lens surfaces to deter any other residual water build up.

That’s not all, though. The mirrors can adjust the brightness of the light from following vehicles to a finer degree than conventional, monochromatic mirror technology.

And, for drivers who appreciate a helping hand when it comes to reverse parking manoeuvres, the digital mirrors can also display guidelines on the screen – helping you park perfectly first time.

The driver can choose between ‘normal view’ and ‘wide view’ via the vehicle settings, extending the field of vision further than with conventional side mirrors, meaning blind spots are reduced by around 10% in normal view and approximately 50% in wide view.

Visibility in low light or bad weather is also improved thanks to the camera technology and high-resolution screens positioned in the corners of the dashboard.

Extensive testing and development have been undertaken to ensure the Side Camera Mirror System delivers superior visibility in poor weather, low-light and night-time conditions with no dazzle or glare and brightness levels on the interior displays are automatically adjusted based on the prevailing light conditions.

The interior rear-view mirror is also replaced with a Centre Camera Mirror System that allows the rear-view mirror to show camera images relayed via a camera at the rear of the car.

The driver can choose if the images are relayed via the camera or used as a conventional rear-view mirror. The benefits include a wider angled view and improved visibility in bad weather and at night.

The living room is the heart of a home. It’s a calming environment, a familiar place where family and friends can relax and share stories. And it’s the inspiration for the interior of the new Honda e.

Akinori Myou says that the interior concept captured the vibe of a living room. “The positive feedback on our concept car helped the direction of the interior design. The monitors are now big monitors, like a flat-screened TV, and the instrument panel is like a table top. And the seats are like sofas, so the whole interior concept became a living room.”

The aim with the Honda e is to simplify user-focused technology to connect occupants to everyday life with ease, providing intuitive infotainment technology and connected services that are accessed through easy-to-use interface controls and displayed on dual 12“ LED touchscreens.

The dual screen enables a ‘co-pilot’ function for the front passenger, for example, and the screen ahead of the passenger can be used to search for locations through maps software. Content can be easily ‘swapped’ across the two main screens, enabling the passenger to ‘swipe’ navigation instructions into the driver’s eye line.

Information directly associated with EV driving can be accessed through the dual screen, including energy information such as the amount of charge remaining, charging status, nearby charging stations as well as other information services.

Make Yourself Comfortable: The Living Room Inspiration

Myou continues: “The seat fabric is something special. It is called a melange-style fabric – a wool mix that's normally used in sofas and furniture – and this is the first time we've used such fabric in a Honda vehicle.”

As for the layout, there is seating for four because Myou and the team decided that this would be preferable to having to squash and a squeeze the space for five. A heavily tinted, panoramic glass roof enhances the feeling of spaciousness.

We’re spending increasing amounts of time in our cars, commuting in our leisure time, so Honda wanted to make the interior comfortable and keep occupants seamlessly engaged with their connected lifestyles.

Human Touch

With its clean-sheet design, Myou and the team knew this presented an opportunity to do something different with the controls used by the driver.

“We wanted to get rid of this idea that if it's going to be a compact car, it has to have cheap parts – we didn’t want it to be characterised by conventional vehicles. That's why we said we're going to break that mould and aim for higher quality.”

One glance at the cockpit and you can appreciate that the effort has paid off.

Get Yourself Connected

Recognising that the Honda e is a car for the connected generation, Myou points to the fabric pocket, down by the front seats, which is for storing phones. The chosen material stops the phone rattling around.

“What is interesting is that we will have apps which will specifically be for this car. We're thinking that as the car evolves, so will the apps and the functionalities that we can provide.”

Creating Something Special

Honda has achieved the perfect balance for commuting and use in urban areas – delivering agility and performance, with quick acceleration with Rear-Wheel Drive. The wide track and tyres enhance its sporty nature and provide stability at high speed, but it also benefits from a very tight turning circle that’s a major advantage in narrower urban streets.

It has intuitive technology for advanced connectivity to everyday life and the exceptional interior environment has a modern minimalist aesthetic – projecting the car’s cabin as a seamless extension of a lounge.

The Honda e has a distinctive, modern design that sets it apart from the competition. It’s a car that is built on an all-new EV-focused platform, which provides exceptional interior space and uniquely modern lounge-like feel.

Honda set out to create a new vision for what a small Honda is, developed specifically to meet the requirements of today's commuters.

The Honda e has a distinctive, modern design that sets it apart from the competition. It’s a car that is built on an all-new EV-focused platform, which provides exceptional interior space and uniquely modern lounge-like feel.

Honda set out to create a new vision for what a small Honda is, developed specifically to meet the requirements of today's commuters.

The Nitty-Gritty

The car will formally go on sale later in 2019, and pricing has been confirmed. Full details on pricing can be found on honda.co.uk.

Reservations for priority ordering online are already open in the UK, Germany, France and Norway, and customers in other European markets can register their interest at Honda’s websites in those countries, with sales beginning in 2020 (timing of sales in these markets are to be confirmed closer to the launch date). The car will also be sold in Japan, the country where the car will be built.

There’s already been a very strong response to the opening of the reservation system in the available markets. By making a reservation, the customer will be given priority to place a final sales order when the car is available.

You can reserve your Honda e for a fee of £800 on the dedicated reservation platform via debit/credit card in order to be one of the first to get your hands on the Honda e. Reservations can be followed up at your nearest Honda Dealer when the car comes to the market in early 2020.