Honda plans the car as an ultimate mobile device

Carmakers are facing an uphill struggle to attract a new generation of motorists into their products especially with the urbanisation of the world’s population.

Also, the twin additional pressures of shared mobility and autonomous driving could be seen to exacerbate this challenge even further.

Yet, Honda believe it can add greater appeal to young drivers by embracing these two unstoppable technological developments. That’s why it revealed the NeuV electric autonomous concept vehicle at the Consumer Electronics Show 2017 and also brought it to this year’s Geneva Motor Show.

That’s where TU-Automotive caught up with Jarad Hall senior exterior designer at Honda’s research and development in Los Angeles and one of the team leaders of the NeuV. “The urban youngster is growing up and experiencing their smart device,” said Hall. “It’s hard to get a young person in a car today because it’s so expensive but also because they look at cars and are confused as to why there are so many buttons. They have this device that they totally believe and takes over their lives and it’s exciting in its simplicity and product design while having a premium feel with the latest technology. So they ask the question: ‘Why can’t the car be more like that?’

“This was our starting point with the NeuV and we came up with the concept of subtractive simplicity. It may be a fancy way of saying minimalism but it must also have a quality, premium feel to the product. So we used durable easy to clean materials but one that also have a quality feel.”

Sitting in the concept car, the smart device experience is immediately evident from the huge full width dashboard touch-screen operating all the car’s functions and connectivity. Hall said other features that reflect those offered by mobile devices include wireless charging and a voice controlled assistant. He said: “Here it was also important to think about inductive charging of the batteries and also the Honda automated network assistant or Hana, meaning flower in Japanese, reflecting the address of our LA studio in Flower Street.”

Naturally, these days, artificial intelligence (AI) also takes on a significant role in the concept’s features. Said Hall: “AI can also help monitor the vehicle and help with the electrification so when you’re at home or at work, the car will charge itself but also charge ‘smartly’ at the times when the electricity charge rates are lower. It also knows through the Cloud and your smart device if you’re not going to be driving for a few hours because it knows your schedule, it can charge some surplus energy back to the grid and make a little money back.”

Hall said it’s vital for carmakers to build a compelling proposition for young drivers to consider new cars over used vehicles. He explained: “One big problem for carmakers is that it’s often cheaper for a young person to by an older car than an entry-level new one so by making the purchase a more ‘intelligent’ one with these means of earning money back and the knowledge it’s very unlikely to suffer the breakdowns of an older car.”

Hall argues there is also a sound commercial case that carmakers can be making with vehicles boasting autonomous technology. He said: “We want to look at creating a new business value not only for Honda but also for the customer. A lot of people have asked us is this like an Uber kind of vehicle? Of course, while Honda may not be interested in running fleet vehicles, some buyers could do that if they wanted to make a business out of this kind of vehicle.

“In this car-sharing scenario, Hana will notify the customer through their smart device so they can check the rental person’s credit and reliability before clicking OK and then the car drives itself to that person for the day.

“Hana is an emotion engine that will not only know its owner’s information but also the rental person’s data by linking through that person’s smart device. This interaction on a daily basis means the car learns the owner’s habits and preferences and then can make better, more informed, choices.

“We talk about the emotion engine because we have cameras in the panel to recognise facial expressions and voice patterns and sensors in the seats to monitor heart rate to see if the driver is happy or sad or angry and can make suggestions to make the driving experience more pleasurable.”

Hall says the technology can be used to reinvent the car’s relevance to the way people live their lives. He explained: “This really opens up the car culture so, say you’re driving through Geneva for the first time, it could be stressful with the traffic or you want to spend time looking at the sights of the beautiful city, then you can handover the driving while recording the experience just as you can on a smart device and share it with other people. It’s a new way of exploring car culture. In the old days you got into your car for a trip and crossed the country taking photographs. So, now, if you can take these new technologies and apply that to transportation it makes the prospect more interesting.

“Of course, you still have manual drive and with all the weight of the batteries under the floor, this would still be a fun-to-drive vehicle. We see this as a near-term autonomous EV and that’s why the steering wheel is not collapsible keeping it as a basic driving car.”


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