By Steve Laser
We’ve been to the Tokyo Motor Show 10 times during the past 24 years. We’ve seen hundreds of concept vehicles and taken thousands of photos. Before the 45th Tokyo Motor Show begins next week, let’s travel back 16 years to the 35th show in 2001 and revisit one of our favorite concepts.
During press days, journalists from across the globe arrived at the show before it opened to the public to see automakers’ latest concept and production vehicles. Then they generated stories for broadcast, print and online media. (Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter along with YouTube didn’t exist back then.)
During press days, we were lucky to see the futuristic Honda Unibox concept onstage before the automaker’s press conference. “Thinking outside the box to enhance your driving experience,” Honda introduced four “Space Magic” concepts at the show: the Unibox, Model X (previewing the Honda Element), w-i-c (what is a car) and SUU (Smart Urban Useful).
Honda positioned Unibox as “A car that puts more fun in your life and gives you greater freedom to communicate.” The concept was built on a truss-style frame and dressed with polycarbonate panels fastened with screws for easy removal. Aluminum alloy or multi-hued plastic panels could be interchanged to create a different look.
Vehicle power was supplied by Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system with a 4-cylinder gas engine, electric motor and battery pack. Storage panels inside the doors housed an electric generator, i-Cargo (navigation-equipped shopping cart), and concept motorcycles called Mobimoba and Caxia.
We felt transported to the set of a music video when Unibox made its formal debut. While “one-box” style vans have long been popular in Japan, Unibox looked like a creative vision of the future – a transparent hybrid riding on six wheels.
Honda said the cabin was made as roomy as possible to create a relaxing personal space for passengers to sit back and chat. Unibox could be used “any way you please – as a cafe, for example, or even as a listening room. Its uses are limited only by your imagination.”
The living-room style interior was dressed with wood, leather and natural materials while the flat floor allowed flexible seating positions to be rearranged on the go. Joystick-style controls operated the steering, acceleration and braking.
Meanwhile, “milliwave radar and CCD cameras located around the vehicle communicate with surrounding cars and road infrastructure systems to prevent traffic collisions and facilitate obstacle avoidance.”
Unibox also featured a large-screen LCD rearview monitor, a heads-up display multi-information panel that rises up from the dash, and an intelligent sub-monitor with functions that include navigation, telephone and TV.
Sixteen years later, if Honda updated the Unibox for a new generation, it could add things like a pure EV powertrain, self-driving capability and digital connectivity. Perhaps we’ll see something like it at this year’s Tokyo Motor Show?
Story © 2017 CarNichiWa.com / photos © 2001 CarNichiWa.com