Are we never satisfied?
On the face of things, Honda’s Geneva e prototype – a thinly veiled (95% production-ready, we are told) version of the forthcoming production Urban EV, marks not only a refreshing change from the over-decorated norm but also a satisfyingly close approximation of the car Honda showed at Frankfurt 2017 to audible gasps of pleasure from the massed cohort of auto-commentators, this non-attending scribe included.
Because if indeed this broadly represents the form the production version will take (and informed speculation suggests it does), it presents a wildly divergent face to the one Honda currently presents to the world.
We have spoken here at length regarding the stylistic depths the German carmakers have plumbed and wrung our collective hands over what it all could possibly mean, but in truth, no OEM automotive manufacturer has lost the creative run of itself as overwhelmingly as the residents of Hamamatsu. Certainly, whatever reasons there might be to sign on the dotted line at your friendly Honda dealer, a concern for matters aesthetic can confidently be discounted as being one of them.
Now is probably not the time or place to explore exactly what (apart from corporate loss of confidence on an epic scale) has brought such a state of affairs to come to pass, but one of the more pertinent questions the advent of the e prototype begs is what (if any), likely influence its calm, product design-influenced appearance is likely to have on future Hondas? On this basis, one would have to hope, rather a lot.
But leaving pure aesthetics aside for a moment, the e prototype is something of a departure for Honda. Because one or two Japanese Kei cars apart, Honda have never previously been an enthusiastic purveyor of retro. And while the nods to Honda’s past are relatively subtle, the car’s overall silhouette, its low beltline, upright A-pillar and calm surfacing seems more redolent of a 1980s tribute than the cutting edge of 2019.
Now it is equally possible (and something that has already been posited upon these pages), that Honda are simply in step with a burgeoning trend away from the mono-volume forms which dominated small car design for decades, back towards a more lineal silhouette. And if indeed this is so, one does wonder if this (despite our early enthusiasm for the concept) is how we would ideally wish the future to look?
Assuming that Honda’s customer data is similar to that of PSA’s, it would appear that buyers of electric cars no longer wish their vehicles to shout about their technical otherness. Nevertheless, this doesn’t necessarily explain Honda’s decision to follow this decidedly Gattica-esque aesthetic.
But not only is the e prototype a creative departure for Honda, it also appears to be a departure in marketing and positioning terms. “A low price is not always a guarantee of success, “the programme’s project manager, Kohei Hitomi told Autocar this week, citing Apple’s electronic devices, which command high prices by dint of their slick design aesthetic. “We believe it is the same for the electric vehicle,” he asserted.
Perhaps, but is the car-buying public ready to pay a premium for a Honda badged EV, no matter however finely wrought? The plan is allegedly to build the production version in Japan (where Honda is increasingly retrenching towards, it seems), before going on sale both in the home market and ‘selected European markets’ later this year, with others ‘following later’.
However, despite the suggestion that the production model will give rise to a family of visually and technically related electric-drive models, the volumes Honda are suggesting makes it rather difficult to imagine what sort of return they are likely to expect.
Perhaps we expect too much. With so much invested in combustion engined formats and in Honda’s case, fuel cells, changing direction when customer preference remains so unquantifiable must be an extremely difficult (and from a boardroom perspective), potentially terrifying prospect.
Memories and reputations die hard, so despite the fact that Honda’s technical and creative heyday lies a good thirty years behind them, we perhaps still expect a lot from Hamamatsu. Which may go some way to explaining why the e prototype (as is) strikes this commentator as being on one hand, pleasingly unsullied yet on the other, slightly underwhelming.
20 thoughts on “Charges Will Apply”
Just lovely, although the two-door concept looked even better. The rear door looks a bit pinched and it has an annoying “hidden” door handle. However, I’m just nit-picking in saying this. The Urban EV is so much better looking than anything Honda has produced in the past decade that one can only hope that it provides a template for a badly needed new design direction. While it’s not a retro design, it’s overall form is very similar to the original 1972 Civic:
It also puts me in mind of another concept that very successfully reprised the original:
What a shame that the Fiat didn’t reach production.
This looks absolutely stunning! I wish they had put into production… (Why didn’t they?)
Hi Max, Fiat’s product (in)decisions are pretty baffling. This is a great looking concept that would have made a brilliant successor to the Punto and given both existing Punto and 500 owners an attractive trade-up option in a segment where the company is traditionally strong. Rear bumper apart, the concept looks perfectly feasible for production and would, IMHO, have been easily the best looking supermini on the market.
Daniel, I should point out that this was not a Fiat centro stile proposal, but a series of digital renders dating from 2013 by a talented chap by the name of David Obendorfer. He also carried out a number of similar retro-futurist ‘renders of a number of other well-loved designs. The 127 was perhaps the most successful of them however.
You can read more here: https://www.designboom.com/design/a-tribute-to-pio-manzu-fiat127concept/
Thanks for clarifying that, Eóin. The original 127 is a highly significant and successful car from a period when Fiat was an automotive powerhouse in Europe. It’s a tragedy how the company has gone into wholesale retreat. A new, good looking and competitive supermini would be very welcome, but I wouldn’t get the farm on it appearing anytime soon. That said, there are rumours of a new Panda concept being revealed at the Geneva motor show, which is supposed to be larger and more utilitarian than the current model.
There’s a lot of comment around condemning this near-production prototype in comparison with the earlier Urban EV. On pure design alone, It’s true that the more recently revealed car has lost degrees of originality and purity. I wonder why Honda felt it had to change the rear lamp signature shape, and also lose the way the leading bonnet edge clips the top of the headlamps, for example.
However, viewed in isolation, I love it. It is ‘cute’ and benefits from clean surfaces, confident details and, for once, good use of black plastic panels to create definition and contrast. I hope it inspires future design directions for Honda.
I have an issue with the range – 125 miles claimed will mean more like 80 in real world winter, which is hopeless if you ever want to go out if town any distance. A pity!
I agree that Honda withis prototype shows a good step forward for Hondas’ design,witness the current Civic which I consider a rather overwrought design. Just on the design alone I was seriously considering buying one when it goes on sale. Then Honda said what the range would be. 125 miles is not a lot ,OK if you live in a city with easy access to chargers ,but live in Devon where in my home town there is only 2 public chargers available. So going anywhere out of town,such as on to Dartmoor , would be practically impossible in summer let alone winter.
So its back to to a small car that looks good ,which means Honda is out of the frame.
Only one thing wrong with this that I can see – those appallingly massive windscreen pillars. Presumably a “safety” feature to ensure the survival of the occupants when they have the inevitable “accident” caused by not seeing what was bearing down on them from behind the blind spot before it shunted them through the safety barrier. And God help the poor cyclist they didn’t see either . . .
A (rather breathless) static review of the car and (slightly obsequious) interview with the designers was conducted by ‘Fully Charged’, recently (clip below).
I’m probably being a bit unfair – a bit of grovelling must be the price one pays to get access to such concepts / people.
The presenter seemed a bit underwhelmed, I thought, especially when the designers said that the 3-door show car came after the 5-door. I think the designers were trying to imply that the 5-door design is more ‘original’ or something. Just a pity that the 3-door looks so much better (although I admit it’s less practical / market-friendly). The designers insist it isn’t retro, of course.
As I recall, they said that this design won’t necessarily influence others. The prototype almost doesn’t have a centre console, by the way.
It is an old marketing technique to create a somewhat mould breaking production car and subsequently to create an even more radical concept, but show the concept first to get the public used to the new form language and make the production car seem more acceptable to conservative buyers. A textbook case which has been cited and discussed here at DTW is the 1981 Ford Probe III concept, followed by the production Sierra.
But this bit of “shocking” chicanery outlined in the video Charles has posted is enlightening to better understand why the 2017 EV concept smells more like eau du Golf than any Civic (just don’t say “retro”). To be fair to Honda, I guess they tried evoking the beloved CRX a couple of times and marketing told them to take a different tack here. And if as Eóin (and Richard H.) have suggested, the pendulum of fashion is swinging back to two box, more upright, lineal forms with clean and sensible detailing (e.g. Jimny) then perhaps this car will succeed.
I want to add that it is ironic that the Ford Sierra example I just cited came from a time when overtly aerodynamic shapes for passenger cars were radical, while the Hondas we are discussing now highlight the opposite case. I tend to doubt that the 2017 EV concept itself ever saw the interior of a wind tunnel, and I think it is wishful thinking to imagine such perpendicularity could make it to series production now in a market segment where efficiency is a major selling point. Note that the concept had the same sleek camera mirrors, which we’ve seen before, but in contrast to the overall shape they stood out, which was no doubt the intention.
It might look different to the hoard and especially viz a viz the rest of Honda’s range, but just like Subaru, it seems Honda has managed to ruin and amazing concept. Why replace the slight frown the concept had out front (with the tops of headlights neatly cut off) with massive round startled Bambi eyes?! In one short move they moved this car from something anyone would buy to something only current Fiat 500 drivers would look at or dare to be seen in. Nice move Honda. You just excluded 50% of your target market from even going near this thing let alone buy it.
And then you climb inside to find acres of the most disgusting plastiwood ever to be formed! Let’s hope there are versions with modern materials too, instead of this ghastly choice. The new CR-V interior is blighted by the same horrid plastiwood. But I guess Honda management felt they had to put their foot down for “traditional Honda values” somewhere to introduce some “range continuity”.
And then the paltry range!!! Nah, Honda I’m sure you could have done better.
As mentioned above, as revealed in the Fully Charged vid, the ‘Concept’ is a ret-con of the prototype, done after the fact, so I’m tiring somewhat of hearing ‘oh it’s a shame the production version isn’t going to live up to the concept’.
I thought the concept mostly looked like a Pug 205, and though I liked its boldness, I knew it wasn’t ready for production, with the queerly flat roof and hard to clean finned wheels.
As to the result – I applaud the clean anti-baroque forms and overall simplicity. To my eye it mostly looks like a last-gen Skoda Fabia – especially around the C-Pillar – a similarly clean and un-cluttered car (if Skoda would just lose those silly Vanden-Plas style stuck-on grilles.
Even with the plethora of screens I really like the interior with the wood ‘desk’ dash , brown seatbelts and Habitat-grade upholstery. Ever since the Volvo V50’s ‘floating console’ and the innovation available with CNC’d wood parts, I’ve felt there’s more room for wood in cars that isn’t just the Gentlemans’ Walnut inserts.
The interior immediately reminded me of the N600, down to the two spoke steering wheel (which itself is remarkable for not being the usual potato but just plain circular and thankfully free of cheesy decoration):
Later N600s had an equally large plank of fake wood
I suppose this is, in principle, a clever way of launching a new car. However, in practice I don’t think Honda has done it right this time.
The key should be to manage expectations in a way, that everybody is excited the (rightfully) loved concept car will go in production! If it then turns out, the production car doesn’t have the most loved features of the concept car, the overriding feeling will be one of disappointment. “Yes, this looks great. But the concept looked so much better still…” as opposed to “Wow, I am so happy they are putting this concept car in production.”
Same with a good April Fools Joke, that (in my opinion) should make you happy it’s not true (“ah, so our holiday has not been canceled, thank goodness”, as opposed to making you sad it’s not true (“oh, I truly believed for a moment we had won the lottery…”).
This aside, I am glad Honda is building this car.
The production version is gorgeous, and of course a Japanese maker wouldn’t go with the mean-eyed face of the “concept”, the market there hates cars with angry faces. My 16-year-old daughter has said she intends her first car to be an EV and I think this could very well be it.
Max – yes – from my point of view there are two problems.
Firstly, the 3-door concept wasn’t ‘unbelievable’ enough – it was just a nice car which I hoped they’d put in to production with a few changes. That contrasts with the Probe / Sierra example, where the concept was evidently never going to go in to production and the Sierra looked very futuristic, especially by bearing some resemblance to it.
Second, there is the ‘teasing’ and time to market. Vehicles are milked for years before they get produced and there’s a risk of them becoming old news.
That said, I hope the new Honda does well, and I looked forward to seeing it on the road.
Eóin asks if we want the future of our cars to look like this. I’d generally say yes. The design might seem retro, but for me it’s a return to more modern shapes than all the features we see on cars today. I welcome this simplicity very much. However, I’d like to see it combined with more futuristic traits – monovolume design, large glass areas, why not covered wheels? OK, this might become too citroënesque then.
Couldn’t agree more: it would be great to see better resolved, simpler forms and less applied ornamentation. The Honda Urban EV is a definite step in the right direction from one of the worst offenders in this regard.
It occurred to me that I’ve never seen a Honda e on the road. All went a bit quiet after its launch and it seems that it’s currently selling at the rate of 300 to 400 per month across the whole of Europe. That can’t be sustainable, surely? Is there a plan B?
I´ve seen just one though lots and lots of other EV´s costing more and less. It is a shame as it is a charming little vehicle.