This is the production version of the Honda Micro Commuter, which was shown in a rather more extreme concept form at last year’s Tokyo motor show.
Officially known as a ‘micro size, short distance, EV commuter’, Honda says the vehicle - which is intended to be the first of a family - was developed to fit into new micro vehicle categories being considered for licence by the Japanese government. It is also being designed to meet the regulations for the European L7 motorcycle category, a niche that is currently exploited by the Renault Twizy.
Just 2.5m long, 1.25m wide and 1.45m high, Honda has released few details about the Micro Commuter, aside from the fact that is powered by a rear-mounted electric motor and a 15kW lithium-ion battery, has an approximate range of 37 miles and and maximum speed of 50mph.
The car uses a clip-in tablet computer to provide instrumentation and controls, which is intended to be personally owned by the individual drivers.
This Micro Commuter is designed to accommodate a driver and two small children in the rear, a reflection of the common sight of Japanese mothers carrying two children on a bicycle. However, it is based on a ‘variable design platform’ that should spawn other body styles. Honda expects that this concept will branch out into transport for the elderly, car-sharing schemes, home delivery services and public sector use.
The first prototypes will start running next year in Japan, including in the city of Saitama, where Honda is trailing the Honda Smart Home System. This will see the Micro Commuter used as a back-up battery for the household. It is also possible to charge the car from Honda’s existing hybrid production cars.
Autocar was allowed to drive the Micro Commuter prototype for a very short distance around part of Honda’s test circuit. It’s a bit harder to get inside than the Twizy, thanks to the low roof, and the front seat - even when fully rearwards - is very close to the steering wheel. The steering itself has a very dead feel, partly because it is unassisted. In truth, it feels like a well-appointed golf cart, but for hyper-local use, that’s not a serious disadvantage.
It’s hard, though, to see this particular model being competitive in Europe. It is more car-like than the Twizy, but less roomy and likely - on very small wheels and tyres - to be upset by poor road surfaces. It makes absolute sense in the myriad Japanese villages and their boulevard streets, but the cut and thrust of busy European roads might prove too much.