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The Honda e Prototype is a close look at Honda’s upcoming EV that is built on a new, dedicated rear-drive platform. (Honda)

Honda e prototype makes it simple, again

In 2017, Honda’s Urban EV concept pointed the way for the brand to escape its current busy and contrived design language in favor of clean, modern forms and at the recent Geneva International Motor Show, the company unveiled the e Prototype—a preview of the upcoming production version of Honda’s first electric vehicle (EV).

The stark matte white sheetmetal remains in this production prototype, along with the signature gloss black single-frame grille, gloss black charging port in the hood and long-wheelbase, short-overhang proportions. The concept car’s fashionable 20-inch wheels have not carried over to the e Prototype, however, as they’ve been replaced by more practical and cheaper smaller-diameter wheels.

The e Prototype gains a pair of rear doors that compromise the car’s reference to the original Civic in its sloping C-pillar design, but is otherwise nearly indistinguishable from the Urban EV concept car. The body was switched from a 3-door hatchback to a 5-door design not only because so many customers demand easier access to the rear seat, but because the production version of the car is expected to operate in cramped urban environments where space to swing open the long doors of a 3-door often doesn’t exist, explained lead exterior designer Ken Sahara.

The door-mounted sideview cameras on the new prototype would normally be dismissed as showcar bling to be replaced by conventional glass mirrors in production, but the company says that the cameras are production-intent.

Not for the U.S.

The decision to use sideview cameras is one reason why the e Prototype’s eventual production successor will not come to the U.S. market, according to Sahara. The car’s unsuitability for the U.S. offset frontal crash test is another factor, he added.

In addition to the sideview cameras, the car’s sides are kept clean with pop-out door handles of the sort seen on the Tesla Model S; these too are production-intent pieces.

The central charging port location in the middle of the hood makes it easy to charge the e Prototype from either side. The car will accept an 80% charge in 30 minutes and it has a driving range of 125 miles (201 km).

The lithium-ion battery pack is built into the floor of the dedicated EV chassis and the single electric motor is mounted in back, driving the rear wheels.

“The EV platform is really good for exterior design, because the rear engine allows for a short front overhang,” Sahara said. Packing the batteries beneath the floor raises the cabin by 100 mm (4 in). “I tried to reduce that height visually by painting [the bottom edge of the car] black,” he said.

Inside, the higher floor allowed designers to recline the front seats a bit, providing a comfortable position without putting the driver’s line of sight too low, reported lead interior designer Akinori Myoui. “Because the floor was raised, the eye line is higher, so we got the best of both worlds,” he said.

The designers were pleased with the ability to incorporate their styling preferences with engineering and manufacturing realities thanks to the cooperation of their team engineer, said Sahara. “Our team engineer is a really good guy who understands styling and design,” he said. “He appreciates simplicity,” which is the car’s hallmark, Sarhara added.

“I really love ’60s cars and ‘70s cars because they are so simple,” he said, explaining how the 1970s Civic influenced the e Prototype’s design. The EV powertrain permits further simplification, with the replacement of the radiator grille with a solid black panel joining the circular headlights. “The cooling area of the car is really small because of the electric motor,” he said. An internal-combustion engine would require triple the flow of cooling air, according to Sahara.

Inside, engineers helped stylists realize the concept of a single panel of glass containing multiple information displays across the width of the dashboard. “It was difficult to integrate them seamlessly into the dashboard,” said Myoui. Seeing the problem, engineers made changes to the displays that made them easier to combine into a single pane. “Due to changes to the engineering aspect, design benefitted as a result,” he said.

Engineers similarly helped the designers determine the correct placement of the sideview camera displays to make it easy to see them.

Honda anticipates applying the e Prototype’s EV platform to other vehicles, as it has illustrated with concept cars like the Honda Sports EV Concept, which was a coupe interpretation of the Urban EV Concept.

“We want to make many types of products,” concluded Sahara.

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