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JUST AS architects sometimes design cars, automotive designers have been known to think architecturally. The Honda Unibox, exhibited at the 2001 Tokyo Motor Show, sets a record in this regard. Bizarre? Yes. Impractical? Agreed. But great fun—and thoughtful in its details.
A neat video shows many of these features. It’s also a good exercise in reading Katakana, the Japanese characters used for foreign loan words. In time, I figured out Joystick Control System (ジョイスティックコントロールシステム ), Truss Structure and Fully Modular Panels, Body Panel Arranging, Fully Flat Floor, Electric Motor Commuter, Shopping Cart, Milliwave Radar, Rearview Monitor, Head-Up Display, Intelligent Monitor, Active Headlight and Shock Absorber Aluminum Wheel. All in good linguistic fun.
In describing its Unibox, Honda used the term “Multi Life Terminal,” an object offering more than just transportation. The Unibox was highly modular, with the owner, rather than the manufacturer, ultimately in charge of design and appearance features. Think setting up a Japanese apartment, but one that moves.
Mechanically (the Unibox’s most conventional aspect), the car was a front-wheel-drive concept powered by a Honda 4-cylinder with IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) hybrid system. Among its unorthodox mechanicals were dual rear wheels of small diameter that optimized interior volume. And no one need worry about potholes: The Unibox’s aluminum alloy wheels incorporated built-in shock absorbers.
Architectually, the Unibox had an innovative aluminum truss frame chassis with bodywork of removable (and hence changeable) plastic screw-on modules. Mix the panels, paint them in one’s own style, swap them with friends, opt for transparent panels (or even leave them off for ultimate open-air cruising).
Its shape looked hopelessly unaerodynamic, though boxes with rounded edges aren’t all that bad. Besides, drag grows with the square of speed, and the Unibox was a city car where speed is trumped by space utilization.
“The interior,” noted Honda, “presents itself almost like a living room.” Its floor area was completely flat and seats easily repositioned or removed. The Unibox was a party locale waiting to be parked.
Honda futurists had real fun with the driver’s controls, everything incorporated in a single joystick. The gizmo evidently took up very little space, though I never experienced it firsthand. (I did drive a Saab with joystick steering. Soon the oddity wore off, and it proved surprisingly amenable to slalom exercises.)
For a concept shown in 2001, the Unibox was replete with Intelligent Technology, including navigation, telephone and entertainment modules. A head-up display was part of instrumentation. Also, milliwave radar and cameras located around the car were envisioned as linking with traffic-management and accident-avoidance systems, both roadside and on other cars.
One novelty that could be usefully implemented today was an LCD Rearview Monitor giving a wider view than that of conventional mirrors.
The Unibox door panels had built-in commuter electric motorbikes, which were lowered to the street electrically. At the rear, there was an onboard generator keeping these and other electric/electronic hardware charged.
There was even a foldable electric-powered shopping cart. (The 1966 GM Runabout concept car had a built-in shopping cart sliding out of its trunk. What a fine idea that never saw production.)
This, of course, is the fun of concept cars—testing the feasibility of advanced ideas, letting creativity run occasionally out of hand. Even having architects do the conceptualizing. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015
Another Japanese concept had a circular conveyer in the floor to move the next package to the rear.
In the late twenties the Divco delivery truck had a quite flat floor and center mounted tiller with pedals each side, allowing the driver to easily work either side of the street. Divco touted a special advantage over their “one horsepower” competitors: you needn’t worry that your horse was eating the customer’s flowers after you stepped away . . .
(American Truck Historical Society Nat’l Convention and Show, York, Pa., May 28-30)
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