By: Dave Abrahams
Makuhari Messe, Tokyo Bay - If ever a car deserved the very South African compliment “Shweet!” it's this one, the star of the Honda stand at the 2017 Ceatec Expo.
The Micro Commuter was custom made by Honda and 3D printing specialist Kabuku for Japanese confectionary maker Toshiyama, for local deliveries of its signature product, the famous dove-shaped shortbread called Hato Sable, with a just one seat and a generous cargo bay.
But what's more important is how it was made, using an open innovation model on a variable design platform. The chassis is a welded tubular frame like that of a motorcycle; its dimensions can be varied by simply making the relevant bits of pipe longer or shorter.
The body panels and load box walls were 3D printed by Kabuku, from software that can likewise be modified to stretch or shrink any given dimension as required to fit the chassis.
The show car is 2495mm long, 1280mm wide and 1545mm tall and weighs 600kg ready to go. It's powered by Honda's 11kW Micro EV drivetrain. Designed for short-range trips up to about 80m and already in production in Japan for the MC-B ultra compact battery car, it's good for a top speed of 70km/h and can be fully recharged from a 100 volt AC power point in less than in seven hours - or in about three hours from a 200 volt supply.
The fact that the Toshiyama promo vehicle is unique doesn't make it any more expensive than a mass-produced car using the same platform, because all the changes are made quickly and easily on the computer before a single tube is cut or a panel printed. In theory you could order your new car to fit your height and weight - or the size of your briefcase - in the same way that you now order the paint colour, at no extra expense.
Ceatec (pronounced “C-tech”) stands for Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies - it’s Japan's equivalent of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, an annual showplace for the latest gadgets and gizmos.