Honda is moving away from a design practice that has (literally) shaped car manufacturing since the 1930s.
The $43 billion company still relies on life-size clay models to evaluate its designs, a proven method pioneered by the designer GM Harley-Earl. But Honda is gradually relying less on practice, since the coronavirus tore the world apart and the resulting lockdowns divided its teams in Los Angeles, Ohio and Japan. According to Honda, these early 2020 travel rules “threatened” its designers’ ability to work with engineers on the ’24 Prologue, creating a window for a deeper dive into virtual reality.
In July 2020, Honda had opened two studios dedicated to virtual reality – one in Torrance, California and another in Tokyo – so its teams can provide feedback on interior and exterior iterations, without air travel. About two and a half years later, the automaker said designs it had evaluated via virtual reality were now rolling off the assembly lines.
“You can mature a design in a much shorter time frame” in virtual reality, the company said last week when it invited the press to its SoCal site. About half the size of an NBA court, the studio can comfortably accommodate several journalists and more than a dozen Honda employees, many of whom branded buttonholes.
Around space I saw dozens of Varjo helmets, box-mounted monitors and three demo stations to observe or “sit” in virtual cars, such as the ’23 Pilot and ’24 Prologue EV. One station was fully virtual, and two others featured real steering wheels, gas pedals, and doors, in a buck setup that looked like me this Hyundai press image starting in 2019. Many other automakers, including Ford and Bugatti, have also turned to virtual reality to visualize their work.
Honda’s gear was fun to try, and luckily it didn’t leave me dizzy enough to delay my ride home. Rather than focusing on my propensity for motion sickness, I wanted to understand if VR-assisted design had any impact on the end results. How did this influence the Pilot? Can car buyers expect anything new, now that some Honda teams are spending more time in virtual halls?
Yet, as far as I know, Honda hasn’t provided a specific explanation of what, if anything, is different from refined cars in VR. Instead, the automaker talked about efficiency. In a statement, he said “one of the many tests performed included color evaluation in a VR environment, which is valuable for the Colors, Materials and Finishes team to view all trims holistically. , enabling instant feedback between design studios in Los Angeles and Japan. Uh, nice!
During Honda demonstrations, staff members explained how virtual reality had saved them time on model development, allowing them to quickly modify designs so they could be reviewed later in the same day. . At least for now, it looks like VR’s impact on Honda car design will be invisible to buyers. Virtual or not, Hondas will be Hondas.
Honda also hasn’t shared exactly how many clay models it develops before mass-producing a car or SUV. During the event, a staff member told TechCrunch that the company has “a few touchpoints” where they check designs through physical models, “and we’re removing them one by one,” he said. -he explains.
The same staff member added that over time the company “builds trust and decision makers can say ‘yes, that’s good'” without checking a physical model. I wish I could remember who said that, but when you have a helmet strapped to your face (pictured above), it’s hard to tell who’s saying what.
As I struggled to balance the virtual and physical worlds, Honda argued that virtual reality made things faster and easier. Still, the automaker wouldn’t say whether it would pass on the time saved by its designers to buyers in the form of lower prices. Honda was quick to point out that it would not “pursue a purely digital approach,” as Bugatti says it’s done. Honda VR manager Mathieu Geslin credited the physical models for ensuring he didn’t “lose the emotion and human touch” of his cars.
Honda designers apparently prefer a hybrid approach. After removing a headset and walking back into the room, I asked if anyone in the company was having trouble adjusting to VR. A staff member told me that some designers, especially in interiors, “love to touch things. They like to feel things, so it’s a bit of a departure for them,” they explained, adding that virtual assessments are “sometimes hard to accept.”
It’s possible that Honda’s move toward virtual reality will also make its design team more sustainable, eliminating some executive air travel as well as model iterations that would eventually end up in a landfill. Yet virtual reality is unlikely to seriously move the needle, in terms of emissions, given the enormity of mass production and endurance of combustion engines. Fully electrified cars would go a lot further in reducing emissions, but Honda’s deadline to do so is more years.