Already released, Honda N Series mini-vehicles have been a huge hit in Japan. The N-ONE, the newest in the series, has drawn acclaim for a sturdy driving feel that contrasts with its soft exterior styling.
Kawabata The N series, which started with the N BOX and then the N BOX + and then N-ONE, the latest model, is selling really well. Were you expecting this?
Ishibashi From a product planning perspective, the tall mini MPV, or as we call it in Japan, the “super tall wagon,” was not a category that Honda created. For a long time we had trouble competing in the mini-vehicle segment, so we decide to get serious and jump right in—and if we're going to compete, we're going to compete to win. Japanese people put a very high value on space utility, so we had an engine framework built to shorten the total length of the engine and create a larger interior space. We researched the dimensions of all competitors’ engines and designed our engine to beat theirs, so we were confident we could win with regard to space utility. Of course, we didn't expect it to be this big of a hit [smiling].
Kawabata The N-series engine was the first in the Earth Dreams Technology series to come on the market, wasn't it?
Otsu That's correct. The engine framework in previous models was only made to cover as large as 3-cylinder 1.0 L, and the bore pitch was 80 mm, the same as the Fit, but the N-series engine was made exclusively for mini-vehicles. Mini-vehicles in Japan are limited to 64 horsepower by voluntary industry restrictions, so the most it stands up to is 64 horsepower. We developed the smallest 660 cc engine that we could.
Wakamatsu Honda didn't have a CVT for mini-vehicles. We competed for a long time with 3-speed and 4-speed automatic transmissions. Our CVT was better than other transmissions, but since we were late getting into mini-vehicles, we wanted to use this as an opportunity to show off Earth Dreams Technology.
Kawabata Not to be rude, but I got into the N-ONE not expecting anything. But then I thought, "Oh! This powertrain is pretty fun!" It was clear you tried to make it as fun as possible within the confines of the mini-vehicle category, and I also thought such a driving experience is possible at Honda because you develop the engine and transmission while work together.
Wakamatsu We motivate each other by giving each other tough requirements [laughter]. Competition over fuel economy is intense in the mini-vehicle world, so we can't slack off one bit. We can't put all our energy into just the transmission or feel satisfied because we made a great engine. Everyone collaborates, even our body engineers.
Last but not least, the Fit EV. According to Kawabata, the all-electric vehicle strikes the best balance among utility, driving performance, and cruising distance compared to other EVs. "If I were going to buy an EV, I'd choose this one." Let's look now at the future of this innovative model.
Kawabata What I noticed when driving the Fit EV is that it's pretty powerful even for an EV. In sport mode, you can accelerate as fast as any 2.0L-class sedan. I wanted to drive it like a sports car. My other thought was that only Honda could make an EV like this one. EVs are usually developed to maximize cruising distance, but Honda achieved a cruising distance of 210 km (JC08 test cycle; Honda measurement) while also equipping it with the same large motor as the FCX Clarity to give it sharper acceleration. It's an interesting approach.
Hasegawa Of course it would need to drive well to be a Honda EV. The biggest advantage is that if you were really concerned about cruising distance, you can select that driving style. Also, in Japan EVs are short-distance commuters, so a smaller car is better. But we were concerned that if we made it too small, Americans wouldn't be very receptive. That's why we chose the Fit body.
Kawabata Is there anything about the Fit EV that you would brag about when comparing it to other EVs currently on the market?
Hasegawa Driving performance is one, but we're very proud of its energy efficiency, which is the highest in the world. It's actually very hard to take any lead in energy efficiency with an EV. They're already very efficient, and because they consist of a simple set of components, efficiency is mostly determined by the size of the body. Of course we worked pretty hard on the body as well, but we're very proud of the solutions we came up with to improve efficiency using the Clarity's motor.
Kawabata Right now it's only available for lease. What kind of presence would you like the Fit EV to have in the market?
Hasegawa That is something we'll decide through communication with the market. EVs certainly have an important role to play, but the jury is still out on whether a million people will end up buying them.
Kawabata I like to brag that I have the most experience driving EVs of any woman in the world, but based on my experience, the Fit EV is a very well balanced EV. It offers a lot of useful space, four people can ride it comfortably, and it's easy to drive because it's compact. There's currently no EV that performs so well in all these categories, so my expectations are high. Lastly, the FCX Clarity isn't in the Earth Dreams Technology lineup. Will it be in the future?
Ishibashi The FCX Clarity was developed before the Earth Dreams Technology name was created, so it's not in the lineup. If we come out with another fuel-cell electric vehicle in the future, it will probably include the name Earth Dreams Technology.
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