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Honda shrinks the family car with the N Box


January 13, 2012

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Honda's new N Box platform was purpose built for Japanese domestic market Kei car regulations - the idea was to create a comfortable, spacious passenger environment for four adults using the available real estate of a minicar platform. The whole N Box package is designed to be customised and the Wa Concept, which took a bow today in Tokyo, has patent leather seats and a traditional Japanese lacquerware exterior. It's gorgeous!

While the Wa is a beautiful example of what can be done with the blank N Box canvas, the minicar-sized microvan is extraordinary by design.

Honda has been able to create a primary vehicle that can carry four people in comfort, even over a long distance, at vastly reduced cost in comparison to a traditional vehicle. The base US$16,000 micro passenger van which went on sale last month in Japan, uses a 660cc CVT drive train to return 52 mpg.

Considering the lengths Chrysler and Fiat have gone to in achieving 40 mpg - it's not quite as spacious but it costs the same price as the Dodge Dart and achieves 25% better mileage.

The N Box was designed to take maximum advantage of Japan's Kei car regs (from "kei-jidosha" - 'light automobile'), a uniquely Japanese phenomena which began as a tax and insurance break stimulus for the local car industry post WWII and has been maintained with a wise eye on the future.

Japan manages the most congested roads in the world far better than any other country. Japan's thinktanks have known for a long time that all societies attempting to base themselves around personal transportation will need to significantly downsize the size of that transportation. Japan is the centre of the world for bonsai transport design because of this.

Given the growing congestion in urban environments around the world, the space-optimised microvan might well be the shape of things to come beyond the Land of the Rising Sun.

So when other societies finally realise that they need to micro manage every aspect of personal transportation, the Kei car is certain to be one of the logical category definitions. Japanese Kei cars are an entire article in themselves, with regs restricting physical size (3.4 m long, 1.48 m wide and 2 m tall), engine displacement (660cc) and power (47kW), so manufacturers have used every square centimetre and stacked it with as many advanced technologies as possible in order to differentiate their vehicles.

In many ways, Honda is returning to its roots with the N Box. In 1967, Honda's then new N360 minicar attracted enough domestic buyers to help establish the automotive brand locally and it has gone on to become one of Japan's big three auto manufacturers and seventh largest automaker in the world.

Now the microvan has been fashioned as a blank canvas for the imagination of the Japanese public. Honda showed four different N Box creations based on the N Box chassis in Tokyo, and not surprisingly the concept commanded a large percentage of the space in Honda's booth at the Tokyo Motor Show last month.

Today is the opening of the Tokyo Auto Salon at the Tokyo Motor Show's old venue at Makuhari Messe in Chiba and the focus is once more on the customizable microvan platform which squeezes more cubic metres into its diminutive dimensions than ... well, anything else on four wheels.

For Tokyo Auto Salon, Honda has produced the Wa concept - with patent leather seats and a traditional Japanese lacquerware exterior. It's gorgeous!

Honda's N Box has a length of 3.395 m, a width of 1.475 m and a height of 1.77 meters, and just about all of that three dimensional space is available as cabin space. The third goal was to make the automobile as safe and secure as possible, allowing The FLASH BOX features a special body color, reflective decal sheets and LEDs used as a decorative element in both the exterior and interior designs. The Freed Wa is based on the Freed Hybrid compact minivan, and the Japanese word wa refers to traditional Japanese culture. Its exterior features the ancient Japanese art of lacquering, while flowers representing the four seasons are the theme of the interior design.

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

It certainly would be nice to have \"KEI\" sized cars permitted into the US. Many of us don\'t need 2 tons of iron to carry our 200 lb body to the market to buy a 20 oz drink. (of course, Detroit, oil corps, & DOT don\'t believe that! :-)


The concept works for the small island nation of Japan, but it would never cut it in the US for three reasons: Americans don\'t like cars shaped like boxes. The average American is taller and larger than the average person in Japan. Small cars like these do not appear to be safe when driven next to large semi-tractor trailers. At 6\'3\" and 260 pounds, I wouldn\'t even attempt to go for a test drive or a ride in one of these cars.

Gene Jordan

Servicing would cost and arm & a leg

Daniel Brown

most people shop, work and play within a few miles of home for most of their lives ...

i have been driving a turbo-charged suzuki (palette) 660cc box for 3 years now - from one end of honshu to the other ... love it ... in town or on the highway with all my stage gear, wife and suitcases - zippy - easy peazy parking - lower highway tolls, insurance, registration, taxes and other fees. could use posher seats for 6-hr drives, though ...



Above poster thinks it wouldnt fly in the USA, what he is forgetting not everyone thinks like he does. Very arrogant to speak for everyone else. I am 6. 2 and 200 lbs and find the K class cars and boxes absolutely amazing in their packaging. They are very capable of meeting the needs of a lot of people but American safety standards would prevent them from appearing on normal roads. The system is a bit hypocritical when you allow massive numbers of motorcycles on the road with no protection whatsoever but not a properly engineered vehicle with a modicum of safety. Large size in a vehicle does not prevent them being unsafe, this is a preconcieved idea like big is better. Its all relative out on the road hit a SUV with a semi and your history. One could use the diminutive size of a Smart to argue its a smaller more nimble target thats harder to hit than larger vehicles. Its unfortunate attitudes are formed based on flawed info be it advertising or social perceptions which prevents more widespread choice of transport such as the K class cars.


If you can get past the sheer ugliness of the thing...

Even a box can be designed for more visual impact than this thing.


The above poster, dgate, forgets that as an American, I think I like an American, which qualifies me to post what I did above. How pleasant of him to call my post \"arrogant\" and then go on to agree with my post on several points.

There are many reasons the American safety standards for vehicles are in place. If the K car and boxes could meet those standards, they would be allowed on the roads here. There are a few similar sized cars that do meet those safety standards and are sold here.

However, smaller cars are a problem on the roads here because they are harder for other drivers to see, especially from the seat of a semi, raising the chances of an accident while driving one. Comparing the K car to a motorcycle is apples to oranges, as they are two different classes of vehicle. For instance, motorcycles are not usually driven in the rain or during winter months, a time when accidents are more likely. Motorcyclist also have to qualify for a special license to drive one and they are well aware of the dangers before getting behind the handlebars.

Sure, a large vehicle doesn\'t automatically guarantee survival in an accident. However, if I had to choose the vehicle to be riding in during a two car pileup, and one of the choices was a K car or boxes - I would choose the other choice every time. I\'ve seen enough accidents to know that the occupants of the larger car have a better percentage change of suffering grievous injury. I\'d have the same choice for a single car accident in virtually any vehicle besides the K car / N box.

Gene Jordan

Looks like they tried to clone the original Scion XB and it didn\'t come out right...


To the naysayers in this post, I like small cars and spent my entire teenage years (pre-marriage and children) in them enjoying every minute of it!! Oh my gosh you say, not the teenage years! We all know how teenagers drive. Now, was that a biased statement? I loved the tiny cars for three reasons, cute, fun to drive, easy on gas. I had the Austin Healy \"bug-eyed\" Sprites (3 of them), the Morris Minors (one which was a woody), and two Honda H600 sedans. None of them had over 1000cc engines and all got over 35 to 40mpg. This was back in the late 1960s through 1970s way before we, in our collective wisdom, decided to become one of the most oppressive nanny states in the world. We have shot ourselves in the foot by being so overly protective. Who gobbles more fuel than any other country in the world? When Gene says we can\'t compare motorcycles to cars as they are two different classes of vehicles he makes the best argument for allowing \"kei\" cars into the US! They were \"a different class\" of cars right from the get-go in Japan and still ARE! As gas prices continue to rise and cars get more expensive, have you noticed more motorcycles ARE driving in the rain and bad weather? They do that because they don\'t have any choice! Let\'s have the \"kei\" class of cars in America and give motorcycle riders and others free choice! Right now motorcycles are the only small vehicle allowed in America. And continuing the \"class\" theme, there is a quickly growing class of people in this country who cannot afford the cost of a new vehicle, the insurance, the upkeep, and fuel! I am one of them!

Will, the tink

To those who don\'t think that Americans would buy boxy cars, I present the Scion XB and the Nissan Cube, both of which are quite popular, and also most SUVs are pretty darn boxy as well. As far as objections to the safety of these vehicles, they are certainly better than a motorcycle and probably in the same class as the very popular Mini Cooper, Fiat 500 and Smart cars. The safety argument is kind of silly since when collide with a tractor trailer you are dead whatever you are in. Does that mean we all should drive tractor trailers? If you are really nuts about safety, take a cue from race car drivers, and get a 4 point harness installed and wear a helmet and fire suit.

Michael Crumpton
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