Honda's e Prototype Does a Surprise Turn at Milan Design Week

By Rob Clymo on at

Honda’s ePrototype is the Japanese manufacturer’s first battery electric vehicle for Europe, and ever since images of it broke ground the car has been getting a lot of love. At the 2019 Geneva Motor Show it was even possible to poke and prod the thing for real, rather than stabbing your finger at pictures if it on the internet. That's right, the Honda e Prototype does exist.

And, while most who saw it at Geneva still loved the design of this little electric car with its strong whiff of the original Honda Civic, some people sounded slightly disappointed. The compact, we heard them moan, had lost some of its original zing. Hardly surprising really, as prototypes are just that – usually not much like the resulting production model. The car is a work in progress, right?

Nevertheless, this battery-powered cutie is still very likeable and it’s great at turning heads too. It’s also about 98 per cent ready to go.

No wonder Honda decided to subsequently push it into the middle of the uber trendy Milan Design Week as the centrepiece of its ‘Honda experience - Casa Connessa Tortona’. Much like tech trade fairs, auto manufacturers are becoming increasingly inventive with their profile-raising activities and Milan Design Week is another date on the calendar that now features quite a lot of cars. The funky e Prototype fitted in a treat.

And, even though this car is compact, it did take some effort to squeeze it inside high-end fashion boutique ‘Alysi - The Garden House’, located in the heart of the Tortona design district. However, with the e Prototype plonked inside this cosy space the feeling was cool and calm, with pastel shades on the walls providing the perfect backdrop for the small white electric car stuck in the middle of what seemed a bit like a living room.

According to Ken Sahara, the e Prototype’s exterior designer, Milan Design Week was an obvious choice for showcasing the little e Prototype… “So, this car as you can see is not just a car,” he says rather cryptically, via Kotaro the interpreter. “It’s very different from the products we have been developing before. From that perspective it’s important to be here at Milan Design Week. We wanted to get feedback and people looking at the car in a different way. It’s not meant to be just a mobility object. It’s about lifestyle.”

Yep, car design isn’t just about designing cars anymore. It’s a lifestyle thing. “This car has been designed to have more of an inter-human relationship,” adds Akinori Myoui, the e Prototype’s interior designer adding further drama to proceedings. “It has a much closer affinity to the human environment.”

Could the e Protoype be the elusive hit that the company is looking for currently? Sometimes, you get a good feeling about a new model. So far, this car seems to be faring quite well. More importantly, how much has changed between the earlier prototype and this one, which is pretty near to a finished four-wheeler? “This is almost a production car,” agrees Akinori. “But it is always the same as you get closer to production, there have to be compromises (that neat illuminated Honda badge logo will disappear as a prime example).

However, as you can see, it’s a very compact car, and it had to be that way. That was the starting point. But, even though it’s a compact car from the outside the interior had to give the impression that it was spacious. We wanted very comfortable surroundings. The interior was designed as a living room if you like.”

This is not a new idea of course. BMW showcased their own stab at a ’living room on wheels’ earlier in the year in the shape of the Vision iNext, which boasted smart materials and a coffee table no less. The Honda e Protoype has wood touches on the dash and, while there’s no coffee table, the interior is homely enough, particularly with the choice of seat fabric.

But there are innovations that give it an additional edge. “The camera mirrors are the first time we’ve used this very sophisticated technology. And there’s also the main display that features the widescreen,” notes Akinori.

Indeed, the dashboard area is awash with light and features screens, LEDs and the view from each of your door mirrors. There’s a lot going on. “It’s a bit like having a flat screen TV in your living room,” says the interpreter. He’s got a point. But does this much distraction have a legitimate place on the dashboard of a car? Y’know, that’s going to be driven on the road by people who already spend too much time glancing at their phones while they’re at the lights? We couldn’t sit in the car so it’s hard to say.

“The wood and the fabric is also associating with a very comfy environment,” say the designers in unison, moving on from the driver distraction aspect of that dashboard. However, the pair seem keen to point out that whilst this is a town car, electric and seemingly a little perhaps, shy and retiring, it is going to be more potent than you might expect.

That’s probably due to the instant burst of torque you get from a battery-powered vehicle. So while it’s not a sports car, the e Prototype could still perhaps bring a fun element to driving around town.

And driving around down might be the limit here, although to be fair that’s what the e Protype is made for. Honda execs suggest that it’ll have a range of about 125 miles, but considering how small the car is the batteries inside will have to be similarly compact. As the designers said, there are always going to be compromises. But, Honda reckons it’ll be rechargeable to about 80 per cent in the space of half an hour and you can plug it right in at home.

Will it be a hit? In light of its recent woes, Honda presumably hopes so. We love it.