Here's the skinny on Honda's electric commuter

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 11:26 28/11/2013
A journalist heads down the test track in Honda's MC-B electric car during a media event in Japan.
Fairfax NZ

SMALL FRY: A journalist heads down the test track in Honda's MC-B electric car during a media event in Japan.

This rear view illustrates the narrow width of the diminutive MC-B.
Fairfax NZ
SKINNY CAR: This rear view illustrates the narrow width of the diminutive MC-B.

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Is it possible to envisage a burly Kiwi male and his wife travelling around central Wellington in a little 2.4 metre-long and 1.28 metre-wide electric vehicle? Or a mother and her child taking one on a shopping trip to the nearest supermarket?

Personally, right now I find that a little difficult - it would be about the equivalent of taking an electric golf cart out onto our public roads.

But then again I can easily imagine such a vehicle being used to carry those aboard through the very narrow and traffic-clogged streets of places such as downtown Tokyo. In that environment, such a pint-sized vehicle might prove to be just about perfect.

And that's why the Japanese Government is currently considering introducing a new vehicle category that would promote the use of micro-sized mobility products in urban areas.

Its Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Touring is seeking projects to test out this proposed new class, and Honda Motor Company has responded by developing a little short-distance electric vehicle called the MC-B.

The company is about to start field tests with the MC-B in three urban areas in Japan, with the aim of starting selling the tiny commuter by 2017. If it happens, the new vehicle class may not even require those using it to have a full drivers licence.

Last week during a media day at Honda's research and development centre at Tochigi, we had the opportunity to take the tiny vehicle for a short spin.

It's a fascinating car. It's so skinny it looks like the view you can get of yourself when you look into a fairground mirror.It isn't wide enough to accommodate two adults side-by-side so Honda has designed an offset seat layout in which the driver sits in the front seat behind the steering wheel, while the passenger sits slightly behind.

Honda says there's even room inside to carry luggage, although I suspect it would only amount to a couple of bags of shopping from the supermarket.

More to the point though, the MC-B is lightweight, electric, and very easy to drive.

The body comprises a motorcycle-like pipe frame covered in plastic outer panelling, and the electric motor has an output of up to 11 kW which is powered by a lithium-ion battery that can be charged in less than three hours using a 200 volt input.

That gives the MC-B a range of more than 80 km and a maximum speed of more than 70 kmh, says Honda.

During our scoot around a specially designated test track at Tochigi, we were immediately impressed with how quickly the vehicle can move off the mark, and with a turning circle of just 3.3 metres it proved very easy to negotiate around a series of marker cones, even without power steering which Honda has chosen not to instal in an effort to keep weight down.

And parking? Well, with the MC-B you don't have to. You simply use your iPad to instruct the vehicle to park itself, and it will do that all on its own.

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As I said at the start, it's difficult to imagine this little Honda having any real application in New Zealand. But there's obviously huge potential in other parts of the world where inner-city traffic congestion is a logistical and environmental nightmare.

But if it ever did sell here, Honda says it would be considerably less expensive than any conventional petrol-powered model. Maybe $13,000, anyone?

Honda MC-B

- Taranaki Daily News

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