Super Model: Honda EV-N

By Guy Bird for Interior Motives, Mar 2010

‘Simple, smart, modern and eco’ was the brief for Honda's electric city car concept
  • Vehicle type: Concept / 4-seat city car
  • Design manager: Kanna Sumiyoshi
  • Interior designers: Kanna Sumiyoshi and Yuuki Nagasawa
  • Colour and trim: Sayuri Hanzawa
  • Project started: Jan 2008
  • Project completed: May 2009
  • Launch: Tokyo / October 2009


‘Simple, smart, modern and eco’ – this was the direct brief for Honda’s EV-N fully electric city car launched at the 2009 Tokyo motor show. However, also crucial to the EV-N designers’ remit was to work within the broader and now well-established Honda design principle of “man maximum, machine minimum’ (or ‘MM’), and more specifically the latest phase of that philosophy as personified by the FCX Clarity and Insight, namely: ‘Efficient MM’.

The young female project leader and co-interior designer of the EV-N, Kanna Sumiyoshi, wanted the concept to be light and small but also enjoyable to sit in and drive, and to have an universal appeal, as she says, “what we wanted to make was a day-to-day car that everyone would like to look at – like Converse sneakers or white shirts.” Sumiyoshi was highly enthused by such a small car idea as long as the interior could avoid being cramped, as she muses: “Wouldn’t people want a car even smaller than a mini-car if its interior were sufficiently large and felt just right, and if the car were inexpensive and could be freely enjoyed; a car in which one could relax, a car that would be great just to have around? Wouldn’t such a small and cute partner be appealing?”

“We wanted to make a car that everyone would like to look at – like Converse sneakers or white shirts”

The final rendering of the interior is a very clean and uncluttered space. The materials and trim chosen and indeed the whole design clearly leans towards product design and is a world away from traditional interior car design ‘staples’ like leather, wood and metal. Note the U3-X ‘electric unicycle’ shown in yellow and strapped to the driver’s interior door panel – more of which later.

The instrument panel of the EV-N is also simplicity itself. Sumiyoshi wanted the car to be as lightweight as possible and to remove absolutely everything that was decorative and without function, to “reduce superfluous flesh”. Of course she realised the difficulty of fulfilling this remit compared to the more simple dashboards from the time of 1967 Honda N360 that was an influence for this car, but still strived to design an IP that would display only necessary functions when driving. Indeed, an early rendering where the dashboard was customised to match seat colour and pattern was rejected on such grounds, as well as because of the associated increased cost and complexity. However, keeping the interior (and exterior) simple for the basic model still gives the car the potential for customisability by the customer, which was an important consideration for the designers.

The car is certainly tiny. At only 2860mm long, it’s shorter and narrower than the ‘three-plus-one’ seater Toyota iQ, if a little taller. Pictured here are changes taking place to the front of the car. As mentioned, the car owes a clear debt to the 1967 Honda N360, although the EV-N’s designers are too young to have nostalgic associations from seeing it driving around the streets. Indeed, the N360 referenced was brought in from a museum at Sumiyoshi’s request, but she doesn’t think the EV-N is a ‘retro’ design, explaining: “I don’t think young guys think it is a retro idea. It’s more a feeling. You sit in it and see the instruments and all of a sudden you feel very comfortable. Something reminds you, you feel at home.”

The thin mesh seating contributes to the physical lightness of, and feeling of lightness within, the vehicle. The red fabric seatback panels are designed to be detachable so customers can replace them with very different options. The EV-N team proposed ‘sporty’, ‘cute’, ‘vivid’ and ‘chic’, featuring tartan and zebra animal print versions among others. It might look like a pair of internal door speakers but the ‘double sphere’ device attached to the interior door is actually a folded up electric mobility unit. Called the U3-X, it unclips from the door, has two flip-out footrests and two Mickey Mouse-style ears to make a seat and turn it into a 21st century unicycle allowing 360-degree movement via lithium-ion battery power and upper human body movement alone. The idea is to provide additional transportation – once the EV-N is parked up – in which to navigate shopping malls or airports inaccessible by car. To avoid the U3-X taking up valuable seating space several door-mounting proposals were made, including an elaborate interior door panel that divided horizontally so that one half could slide downward to allow the U3-X to be removed. Finally however, a simpler strap attachment method was adopted...

Read the full Design Review online at: <

  • Length: 2860mm
  • Width: 1475mm
  • Height: 1515mm
  • Wheelbase: 1997mm


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