Honda's "Micro Commuter" features swappable bodies


November 13, 2012

The new Micro Commuter Concept

The new Micro Commuter Concept

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Further evidence of the coming fragmentation of personal transportation came today when Honda released details of the next iteration of its "Micro Commuter" prototype which we first saw at the Tokyo Motor Show last year.

The new version is close to production-ready (without the extreme aerodynamics of the initial prototype) and concentrates the battery and functionality of the micro EV below the floor, enabling the vehicle's body to be easily changed to accommodate different functionality.

It seemed so obvious 100 years ago, with an excess of petroleum, unreliable metallurgy and no concerns about air pollution, to over-engineer our automobiles so they'd have low stress, reliability and longevity, and be able to carry very large amounts of everything. There was only one casualty – efficiency. The folly of those ways is now equally obvious, and Honda's Micro Commuter Concept is at the extreme far end of the spectrum to that over-engineering approach.

Billed as a short distance EV commuter, the 100-inch long Honda Micro Commuter is a full six inches shorter than the smart fortwo's 's 106-inch length, and 20 percent narrower at 49 inches compared to the smart's 61.4 inches.

The secret of the latest vehicle's energy frugality is it's extremely light weight. Whereas a smart fortwo ED (Electric Drive) has a weight of 870 kg, the Honda comes in at considerably less than half that weight (it's less than 400 kg but we don't know the exact figure), and is able to achieve similar performance to the the smart ED with a motor producing just 15kW, compared to the smart's 30kW.

The Micro Commuter is built specifically for a new era though – it is designed to take one person and one passenger (or two children passengers) a maximum of 60 miles at a maximum of 50 mph. Those figures are realistically well within the range most people use in their commuting, but it will take some time for people to become accustomed to having just enough, instead of three or four times the power, weight and range required.

Maybe it is possible to build a fully electric vehicle that will still offer a range of several hundred miles and a speed potential of three times the speed limit, but not at this time with currently available technologies.

I'm disappointed that the high-efficiency aerodynamics have been sacrificed for the production model. They may have been dispensed with as a safety concern, with some of those sharp edges a safety concern for pedestrians, but whether or not you like the aerodynamic approach to efficiency, those shapes make for a more efficient automobile – and they reek of functionality.

As is often the case with vehicle design, it's all trade-off, and the Honda's small battery can recharge inside three hours whereas the smart fortwo ED's much larger battery takes eight hours to fully replenish.

Honda developed the Micro Commuter within a new framework of micro mobility categories currently being proposed by the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism as well as European L7 regulations. To be classified under the L7 category in Europe, an EV must weigh less than 400 kg and have an output of 15 kW or less – in meeting those targets, the Micro Commuter is suddenly a very realistic alternative to the traditional automobile in an environment which will certainly appreciate it.

Honda will begin real-world testing of the Micro Commuter in Japan next year to verify the potential of the vehicle in short-distance transportation roles for a variety of users – families, ferrying small children and senior citizens to their necessary activities, home delivery services, commuting and car sharing.

The Micro Commuter Concept was first seen at the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show this time last year, but the concept has developed significantly since then, with the adoption of the Variable Design Platform.

This concept positions important functional components such as the battery, motor and control unit into a compact space under the floor so that the body and interior can easily be re-purposed for different uses.

One of the most intriguing features of the Micro Commuter is the use of a user-owned tablet device for the display, navigation, audio and back-up camera, and the ability to charge the tablet using solar cells mounted on the vehicle roof.

In the first iteration of the concept seen in Tokyo, the micro-car used Honda's own tablet/smartphone device, but now it appears there has been a change of heart.

I have been highly critical of previous attempts by car makers to designate a specific tablet as the display for their vehicle, mainly because tablets tend to go out of date much quicker than cars.

Some of my concerns disappear if the manufacturer provides a universal docking station and a commitment to provide ongoing support and development of quality software in Windows, Android and iOS for the car's owners. What cannot be easily solved with a tablet as your dashboard, is the likelihood that your car will become a smash-and-grab target, or else you'll need to carry your tablet with you at all times – okay for some, but not for everyone. The whole idea of using a tablet as the car dashboard still looks to me like car makers trying to be hip and relevant with integrated digital technology when in fact they are creating more problems than they are solving.

Finally, Honda's continuing research in all aspects of energy management should be noted here. Japanese auto companies appear far more attuned to the future problems faced by society than auto companies from other countries, and it's hence not surprising to see the Micro Commuter with onboard solar cells and development in conjunction with the Honda Smart Home System (HSHS).

About the Author
Mike Hanlon Mike grew up thinking he would become a mathematician, accidentally started motorcycle racing, got a job writing road tests for a motorcycle magazine while at university, and became a writer. As a travelling photojournalist during his early career, his work was published in a dozen languages across 20+ countries. He went on to edit or manage over 50 print publications, with target audiences ranging from pensioners to plumbers, many different sports, many car and motorcycle magazines, with many more in the fields of communication - narrow subject magazines on topics such as advertising, marketing, visual communications, design, presentation and direct marketing. Then came the internet and Mike managed internet projects for Australia's largest multimedia company, (Australia's largest Telco), (Australia's largest employment site),,, and a dozen other internet start-ups before founding Gizmag in 2002. Now he writes and thinks. All articles by Mike Hanlon

Why do these genius designers all think it is easier to steer these things with sticks insted of a wheel? It looks cool (?) but functionality, I don't thnk so...even a half wheel is better than sticks...the ski machine!


I look forward to the day when an instrument display is as functional as a modern avionics cockpit display. A permanently installed tablet (just the screen and motherboard) would do the job nicely. But I guess a lot of people still like to see cheap illuminated plastic needles spinning within a garish instrument cluster.

But I like this car. Lightweight means fun to drive.


When I buy a vehicle it needs to be able to do more than just provide for my commute. I don't have enough money to have 2 'cars'.


It seems like an advance form of what can be done with the Smart Fortwo. The Smart Fortwo has interchangeable panesl. One can customize the Smart Fortwo the way one would a smart phone (very similar way). The production vehicle looks very similar the Smart Fortwo. The production vehicle also resembers the Toyota Scion iQ.

I like the design. It would be nice if they had a small gas engine in it; even if it is just to run a generator to recharge the batteries.


For all that creativity, they don't realize that the future lies not in a steering wheel or even in joy stick for control, but in autonomous control.

Dave Brough

Didn't notice any mention of money? ...But, I guess if you want economy you have to pay for it.


Pair this concept with robotics and platooning/tram or individual use to provide "last mile commute" between transit hubs/shopping hubs and homes to reduce or eliminate the need for everyone owning a car.

Kevin Swanson

Too many fairings for normal usage...

They need to design a VW BUG type smooth shape that can be "reduced" to allow for conv. use when the weather is great and include mounting "hard points" for a roof rack when folks need to carry something that will not fit inside... I'd also suggest a backseat extra battery pack to allow extra millage that can be removed when that space is needed... Done


Yet another vehicle attempting to be a "world car", including the North American market.

The problem with all these is they are only good for a few cities on this continent where large numbers of people are able to live close to where they work and other places they need to travel more than convenient walking or biking distances.

In many large metro areas like Los Angeles and even many smaller ones like Boise, ID housing is too expensive deep in the metro zone so people live several miles from where they work and most of the roads between home and work have 55 MPH or higher speed limits.

Too small, too short range and TOO SLOW. Fail X3.

Gregg Eshelman

60 miles? Ok, I could live with that. 50mph? Not so much. Living in the suburbs makes getting on the highway pretty much mandatory no matter where I go. And how much am I paying for the commuter special? Keep trying Honda.

P.S. a roof rack for my kayak would be NICE.

Bryan Paschke

Ready for China In light of the astounding U.S. national debt, the terrifying "Fiscal Cliff" approaching, the obvious change in China's political party away from 'enchantment' with America and back towards Maoism, (fully realized in Asian circles), and the absolutely criminal decline in the purchasing power of the U.S. Dollar caused by the "Feds" money and now bond printing, 24/7, and with respect to China's forthcoming (2017) thorium nuclear age changing the face of the world's energy maps, I respectfully submit the notion that Honda of Japan seeks Pan Eurasian markets now over American ones, and most notably so with these designs? Similarly the Leaf, really made for an electric based energy system, and many Hybrids now including plug-in capability, market ready for the Chinese "Population Bomb" for which China has built whole empty cities already! (complete with factories?)

Bruce Miller

Actually there are cars that run just on electricity, and some of those are even racecars, hitting speeds over 180kph, but those are one off models, that are never to be mass produced.


"Maybe it is possible to build a fully electric vehicle that will still offer a range of several hundred miles and a speed potential of three times the speed limit, but not at this time with currently available technologies"? It's about time someone looked at something other than big car companies for leadership in what can be done. The Aptera has a range of nearly 200 mile at 60 mph, of course the government gave no backing to them so now they are being produced by the Chinese! It should be painfully obvious by now that nothing will change until the last drop of oil and the last penny of profit is squeezed out of the last American!

Jerry Peavy

People can usually only afford one car, and that car must handle every mission they have. Even if I still lived in Houston, 50 miles range wouldn't cut it - and 55 MPH would get me flattened on the Southwest Freeway.

No, while many of my trips are just a few miles in town, I still have a need to haul a midsize (Blazer-class) SUV load 750 miles on a trip that's 750 miles one way a couple times a year. I can't afford two vehicles, so my vehicle has to handle that as well as 5 miles one way within town.

Until it'll go 300 miles with that SUV-load of people and stuff at a minimum 70 MPH, then be ready to do it all over again in 15 minutes, repeated indefinitely, an EV simply won't get the job done for me. I'm certain I'm not alone.

Jay Maynard

equator180: So true about the steering wheel. I believe the biggest reason none of those goofy joy sticks and other crazy-shaped steering mechanisms ever see the light of day in actual production is that accidental nudging (by the driver or the passenger) of any shape other than a wheel (circle) would most certainly cause immediate and severe loss of control. In other words, mayhem & death.

Why they continue implementing those useless steering technologies in prototypes is inexplicable.

Fritz Menzel

Using a massive, fat, inefficient, polluting SUV to carry one person 10 miles across a city at 10mph (just look up average commute speeds for many major cities, say, London, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo) for the 300+ days a year when you're not doing 750-mile trips is an obscenity.

Would you expect your pickup to do your 750-mile trip on less than a single tank of fuel? If not, why not?

Bigger cars are generally more expensive to buy, run, insure and fuel - the savings made by using a small car would easily pay for renting a bigger one occasionally.

There's also a lot of baby and bathwater going on here - this car may not be right for you, but that doesn't mean it's not right for others. There will be others to suit other driving patterns.


I want one.

Send me one. I'll be the test pilot for Sweden.

Please Honda :)

Hagge Aliquis

Too slow doesn't bother me. Sure we've got 120 km / h highways here in Sweden (they are 90, 100, 110 or 120) and 50 mph is 80 km / h but common city speed here is 50, areas with houses 30, "cross country" or whatever to call it 70, 80 or in a few cases 90 or 100.

So yeah. It's not high-way speed. And I would have to travel at 80 km / h rather than 100-120 at the high way. But so what?

Not all travel is there and it would take longer time. But well, you just have to plan for and accept that.

If you are in a hurry and the distance to travel is long then take the train.

Hagge Aliquis

Actually, if I was to get an electric car, it would be the NmG from Myers Motors. It is really nice looking. It has a range of 60 miles plus it can go up to 75 miles per hour. It has a really nice design. Intelligent Energy has a hydrogen fuel cell that can be used in motorcycles, airplanes and automobiles. I think it could extend the range of this cool electric vehicle.

BigGoofyGuy I think the Alias by Zap World shows that electric vehicles don't have to look boring. I think it is an alternative to Honda's micro-commuter.


I'm always somewhat taken aback by the large amount of "that'll never work" type comments on these alternate energy vehicle articles. If I leaned more towards conspiracy theorist, I'd think a bunch of oil industry employees were paid to troll sites for the purpose of marginalizing the technology and idea behind EVs. But I'm not, so I'd like to issue a plea - If an EV doesn't appeal to you, great - you probably shouldn't buy one. If the design doesn't appeal to you, look around - there just may be a few you like. If the price doesn't appeal to you - well, that's a tough one since virtually all are priced beyond what a comparable gas driven peer would cost. That said, with the proliferation of newer models each year, prices will continue to fall (even if slowly) and someday they really will be a "cost effective" alternative. Now, "cost effective" really is relative if you look beyond the intial sticker price, but that's the same hurdle we all have to jump to enter the field. It's funny, I see articles about half million dollar sport cars with two seats and very few negative comments. Show me a two seat electric car that costs under 40k and whiners crawl out of the woodwork! With any luck at all my next car (in the next six months) will be electric. I'm a sport car nut from waaaay back, but I realize I don't need a 420hp track worthy machine to take me to work and the grocery store! Would it be more "fun"? Yep. But the knowledge that I can make the effort to do my own little part to help the future is pretty fun, too.

Keep in mind, virtually none of these cars are designed or marketed for the purpose of being a "one car for all purposes" type vehicle. There are a great many people who would be served well with an EV as their only car, but for those living outside dense urban centers, an EV makes a perfectly perfect second car (which not all, but most of us have).

Vince Pack

Here in Boston, MA, USA, this car would be fine for everyone, due to the ease and availability of Zipcar and other car share/rental oranizations for when the Honda's not enough for a task.

David Gardner II

All the thing does is commute you can't even take more than one of your coworkers to lunch. With your own car you know what condition it's brakes and such are in with rentals you don't.


My wife and I each have our own cars to drive to work but when we take long trips, we just rent a mini-van. I do not understand why most of the millions who live within short commutes don't have EVs and do likewise.

Doug Dunlap

The car body does not look like it is high enough for a lot of inner city driving. Some driveways like mine are steep and then flat, almost like driving over a curb. I sometimes have to drive over a curb as I park my car off the street over the sidewalk. Otherwise, this car would suit all of my needs in town. I would still need to keep my regular vehicle for long trips of 600 miles each ways and the higher speeds required.

I like the car and would not mind testing one in West Texas where I live.

Sonya Jones

Great Idea from Honda! Until people like Jay Maynard stretch their mind a little ( a couple long trips with a Load.....p.s. Rental for those two or so trips....GAS saved on the other 10,000 Short trips will more than pay for it!) I guess if people WANT to change they will. And if they DO NOT want change......they will continue down the SAME OLD ROAD....... Can not wait ...( Been waiting since the first 'GAS Shortage'...early 70's) much longer. Am 60 already and am now riding a pedal bike....waiting for an electric vehicle that I can AFFORD... Thanks for the Article.........

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