Honda is late to the electric car party. Like most of its fellow Japanese car companies, it has been chasing the fuel cell chimera while Tesla was busy turning the automotive industry upside down with innovative electric cars. Now Honda is playing catch up. At the Frankfurt auto show this week, it is presenting two new products — the Honda Urban EV Concept and a Smart Power Sharing system. Of the two, the second may be the most important.

Honda Urban EV Concept

Honda Urban EV Concept

Looking a little like the original Volkswagen Rabbit, the Honda Urban EV Concept is a three door hatchback designed to transport four people. “This is not some vision of the distant future. A production version of this car will be here in Europe in 2019,” Honda CEO told the press at the Frankfurt auto show.  The Concept is built on an all new chassis designed specifically for electric cars.

The car features a full width electronic display screen that wraps around into the doors, where it displays digital images of the world outside in lieu of traditional side view mirrors. The Concept is 100 millimeters shorter than already truncated Honda Jazz, known at the Fit in North America. The doors are hinged at the rear and there is an interactive display screen between the headlights that can display messages to pedestrians, bicyclists, and other drivers. Honda makes no mention of the car having autonomous driving capability.

Honda Urban EV Concept

The Urban EV Concept “showcases the company’s vision for a world where mobility and daily life are seamlessly linked. The on-board advanced Honda Automated Network Assistant acts as a personal concierge, which learns from the driver by detecting emotions behind their judgments. It can then apply what it has learned from the driver’s past decisions to make new choices and recommendations,” according to a Honda press release.

Honda Smart Power Management System

Vehicle to Grid technology has been largely written off by most major companies. Tesla’s chief technology officer JB Straubel say his company has researched the idea and decided against using it. He claims it degrades electric car batteries prematurely and that batteries or propulsion and batteries for storage need different properties.

Honda Smart Power Management system

Nevertheless, V2G technology seems to be enjoying a resurgence. A recent experiment conducted by Enel, one of Europe’s largest utility companies, and a small number of electric vehicle fleet owners found that selling electricity stored in vehicle batteries back to the grid seems to actually extend battery life. It also results in a significant pay back for the vehicle owners — enough to offset most of the cost of electricity needed to keep them charged up during the course of a year.

Honda proposes to make V2G connectivity available to its electric car customers in western France using a new Smart Power Management system. V2G systems can help balance a grid that gets significant input from renewable sources. It can also assist utilities in meeting higher than expected grid demand instead of bringing an auxiliary power plant online. V2G systems can react in fractions of a second to adjust the flow of electricity.

Philip Ross of Honda Motor Europe, told the press in Frankfurt, “We will incorporate electrified drivelines in two thirds of cars sold in the region by 2025. The introduction of our Power Manager system supports and reinforces our commitment. It uses advanced technology to intelligently integrate the electric vehicle into the wider power network, so it is no longer just a consumer but also a contributor to the grid. It underlines our pledge to develop a more sustainable mobility model.”

The Bottom Line

As cool as the Honda Urban EV Concept may be (Tesla Model 3 customers, feel free to scoff at this point), the idea of smart power grids is tantalizing. Instead of spending $5,500 or more for a residential storage battery, electric car owners could simply plug in and use the energy storage capability of their cars to absorb excess energy from renewable during the day and run their homes or businesses using the stored power when the sun sets of the wind dies.

Vermont Power is doing something similar by offering its customers Tesla Powerwall units at reduced prices in exchange for being able to integrate them into a smart grid. Conceptually, does it make more sense to have two storage batteries — one in our cars and one in our homes — or one that does the same job? The Honda experiment in France may help answer that question.