Test Drives Totaling 130,000 Kilometers

<< 1. It all began with a debate concerning the feasibility of solar power.
<< 2. A Corporate Project Involving Scores of People
<< 3. "Why don't you just dig a hole, and bury it!"
<< 4. Finally, Development Begins: Producing the World's Finest EV
<< 5. Test Drives Totaling 130,000 Kilometers
<< 6. First Prototype Gets the Green Light
<< 7. Anticipating the Age of the EV

Even at the start of development, the only EV that could be driven on a public road as a test vehicle was a conversion model of the Civic Shuttle. It had a driving distance of between 40 and 50 kilometers, rendering it highly impractical for most applications. Furthermore, no solution was in sight for sufficient impact protection, since the battery's added weight had to be offset by weight savings elsewhere.

Hiramatsu and Araki, who became manager of automobile research after the EV project advanced to the D stage development phase, had meanwhile become involved in a campaign aimed at educating project members and other R&D members about the importance of developing electric vehicles. The campaign was prompted because a majority of them had voiced their concerns through such statements as "Electric vehicles can't make money because they're expensive, heavy and don't even run," and "Petroleum won't dry up." In addition, F-1 racing activities had been suspended for a second time the end of that year, raising yet another question: "Why electric vehicles now?"

The campaign to promote an understanding of environmental issues paid off in time, proving the value of a success first achieved at Honda's R&D Center, and then spread throughout the company. The campaign helped greatly in the promotion of Honda's future operations.

In the U.S, Honda had dispatched several teams of associates to major electronic manufacturers. These individuals were to search for any technology they could use, and to determine the actual state of the current knowledge. The U.S. was also examined as a possible site for production of the EV. This was because the electric vehicle was a car that could not exist unless new technologies-meaning ones that did not exist in the realm of conventional automobiles-were brought into the mix.

It was in such an environment that the EV-X was produced, under the research theme of being the "finest EV in the world." The car was to be exhibited at the 1993 Tokyo Motor Show. Yet, despite the fact that it was indeed a "show car," it was one that actually ran. Moreover, the CUV-4 had also been produced by converting Civics in order to collect actual market data. A two-year test drives began in 1994, following the signing of a contract with a California power company.

"Honda has a very big presence in the U.S.," said Kenji Matsumoto, LPL of the company's development project. "And in terms of market share in individual states, Honda ranks first in California. If people there were troubled by the legal regulations, we felt Honda should assist them."

Thus, at the switchover point from research to development, it was determined that California would be the main market for electric vehicles, with an annual production plan of about 300 units.

However, before the car was to be taken out on an actual test, there was a need to perfect the car's electric safety measures. Repeated tests were conducted in order to secure the same level of safety as a gasoline car would provide in a collision. For example, a load of force several dozen times greater than the highest possible level that could be generated in nature was forcibly applied to the battery and other parts.

"After making some alternations in the hardware specifications (Note*3) and meeting all legal requirements in Japan and the U.S.," recalled Matsumoto, "we took the EV out for a test drive."

An added issue was raised during the test, however. Unlike the situation during the simulated test, the vehicle's lead-acid battery was found to deteriorate very quickly when left in the heat of summer for a week or two. It became evident that the way people handled their cars varied greatly. It also became evident that there was a need to switch batteries to stress-resistant, nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH). This was a new type currently under development, and was being "co-created" with an electric manufacturer.

"Although we had managed to achieve some understanding of the practical application of Ni-MH batteries, the real work had just begun," Hiramatsu recalled. "Batteries are a fusion of chemical reactions, science, and engineering. Therefore, there was an element of invention inherent in the development process."

Nearly two years were spent in actual test drives in the U.S. A total of ten cars, including monitor cars from HRA and AH, were used in the tests, which together accounted for 80,000 miles (130,000Km) in driving distance. Then, as a result of all that hard work, the EV's basic structure was finally established.

Note 3: Certain alterations were made to the hardware specifications, including the following:
a) Total voltage: from 240 volts to 288 volts
b) Motor: from 40 kW to 49 kW
c) Transmission: reducing the speed of torque-converterless 3-AT at a fixed speed rate.
d) Battery: from lead-acid battery to nickel-hydrogen battery
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