A concept version hinting at the production model was displayed at the Frankfurt motor show in September last year, and is also being shown at the Geneva motor show. The final production version is due to be revealed in Geneva next year.
The concept was so popular that Honda will make very few changes to the final car’s design. Inside, the major changes will be the switch to five seats from four and the adoption of more conventional switchgear.
Speaking about opening order books in Britain, Honda UK boss Dave Hodgetts said it expected the model to do “very well”. He added that it will “test people’s real attitude towards the car”, beyond just liking the look of it.
However, few details about the car have been revealed and Hodgetts said he “will push hard to get meaningful information” so that potential buyers know what they are committing to.
While it’s too early for pricing, Hodgetts recognised it would not be a cheap car despite being a supermini, and that the marque would position it as a premium model.
Hodgetts added that he hoped electric vehicle pricing would start to come in line with combustion-engined models in two or three years’ time.
The electric car, the brand’s first for Europe (Honda already sells an electric Clarity hatchback model in the US and Japan), is built on a new dedicated electric platform and “sets the direction for the technology and design” of its future EVs.
The Urban EV has low and wide proportions and is 100mm shorter than the Jazz supermini, making it 3895mm long. When on sale, the car will not steal sales from other models, which helped its case for production, according to a senior Honda source.
It also uses a Honda emblem backlit in blue, which previews a new styling feature for future EVs from the brand.
At the front of the car between the headlights, interactive messages can be displayed including greetings, advice for other drivers or charging status updates.
Inside, Honda has intended to create maximum visibility for drivers thanks to slim A-pillars and a wide windscreen. Entry and exit from the Urban EV is via rear-hinged coach doors.
A so-called floating dashboard console houses the steering wheel column, a set of simple control buttons and a panoramic screen. The wrap-around screen goes beyond the dashboard and extends into the doors, a feature that works as the car’s wing mirrors through digital camera display.
The concept can accommodate four occupants, but a production version is likely to allow five.
No powertrain or range details were given at launch, but Honda said the car would include a high-density lightweight battery pack, integrated heat management and energy transfer functions both to and from the vehicle. A source at Honda suggested a short to middling range, so 155 miles (250km) is expected.
The car maker recently announced that every new model line from now on would feature electrified technology in Europe.
In Europe, it hopes to have two-thirds of its new car sales using electrified technology by 2025, five years earlier than its overall global goal.
Honda president Takahiro Hachigo explained: “Here in Europe, we see this move towards electrification gathering pace at an even higher rate than elsewhere.”
The firm unveiled its Honda Power Manager Concept last year, an integrated energy transfer system that can distribute electricity to and from the main grid, as well as directing power flow from renewable sources and managing an electric vehicle battery connected to the home.
Philip Ross, senior vice president for Honda Europe, said: “When appropriate, Power Manager can draw on energy from the EV battery to power the home and minimise the demand from the main grid. It even allows the energy stored in the EV to be sold back to the grid to generate an income for the owner.”
The technology is undergoing a trial in western France, as part of the development of a regional ‘smart grid’ due to be completed in 2020.