A former Motoring Editor at the Telegraph, Erin Baker combines a bike licence and race licence with a love of high-speed cars and penchant for embarrassingly low-speed crashes. Now she has two sons, she’s largely put her leathers to one side, preferring the cut and thrust of automotive industry debates and wondering which cars have Isofix…
Honda had a busy year in 2015, with a rush of product launches, including an all-new Jazz, Africa Twin motorbike and the Civic Type R, but the 10th-generation Civic (yes, it’s been around for a staggering 40 years) was held over until this year, and has just appeared, in prototype form, at Geneva.
The new model looks promising: it sits on a new platform which means it’s lower and wider, and Honda have moved the game on without changing the fundamentals. The result is perhaps, dare we say it, a lesson to the 911 – it is possible to significantly update the looks of a model that defines a brand for many, without losing any of the emotion behind the design. The new Civic, which won’t look that different to the prototype at the show, looks like a serious Golf competitor with sleek, hard lines and a sporty stance.
I caught up with the model’s principal designer, 39-year-old Daisuke Tsutamori, on the stand. We talked about the challenges of building one global design – the new Civic, in coupe and saloon form, will be sold in every market, instead of local iterations. Honda used to do this with the Civic before it bent to the demands of different countries, so it’s a familiar stamping ground.
‘We tried to follow the European requirements for the behaviour and characteristics, but also the exterior design,’ said Tsutamori. It’s not surprising European demands have been prominent – Honda has sold three million Civics in this market so far.
Two R&D centres in Europe informed Japan on the design and build, so what you see now is not only a European car ready for export round the world, but will be built and exported from Swindon, where there has been a 270m euro investment in a new production hub just for Civic. Makes you proud to be British.
I also talked to Kiyoshi Shimizu, chief engineer of the Clarity fuel-cell car, which made its European debut at Geneva.
True to form, Honda has engineered a very clever fuel-cell vehicle, because the entire power train is under the bonnet, a feat that has eluded its competitors and means that five adults can travel in comfort. It has done so by shrinking the cells so that the whole stack is 33 per cent smaller.
The stack is no more efficient than its predecessor but Honda can now put more hydrogen into the vehicle by using two tanks and the car’s aerodynamics have improved, all of which means it can cover about 700km on a tank and takes three minutes to refill.
Everyone knows about the infrastructure problems that currently hamper the increase in fuel-cell vehicles on the UK’s roads – there are 11 filling stations at the moment, although the UK H2Mobility Government/industry partnership here has given the UK a target of 65 stations by 2020.
Meanwhile, Honda is looking for three private individuals, not companies, to run the three Clarity FCVs it is bringing over in September. Individuals must be prepared for some hiccups along the way; Honda wants feedback on the cars, not endless gripes about the lack of filling stations, which it’s well aware of.