You think the Toyota Prius or Chevy Volt looks like a door wedge? The Honda Kiwami concept takes the wedge-shaped transport cake, appearing out of the air at the 2003 Tokyo Motor Show like a dustbuster from the future. It was Honda's take on an ultra-luxury sedan for Japan with all the trappings of an alternative fuel vehicle to match. In 2003, despite cheap gasoline prices around the world, manufacturers got a little woozy on hydrogen. Every major carmaker started to show their special projects, hoping to capture the public's attention and get credit for being there first. As the decade wore on, hydrogen never took off the way the big companies told us it would, with a series of innovations in batteries actually making electric cars viable without the infrastructure leap required for a completely new hydrogen network.
Kiwami's most telling feature -- its low, wide stance -- was a result of the hydrogen powerplant on board. Remember, these cars have to carry around a lot of kit to store and convert hydrogen into usable mechanical power. The Kiwami was no different, lugging around an ultracapacitor (as opposed to batteries), a fuel cell stack, a hydrogen storage unit and a control unit to manage it all.
The Kiwami's low height and short nose was seen almost as a tribute to how small Honda had managed to assemble all those components. The state of the art thinking at that time was to encase it all in a low "skateboard" chassis below the driver and passengers. The layout for all the Kiwami's hydrogen storage and conversion is a sideways H pattern, with the middle truss of the H stretching down the entire length of the vehicle. This actually played nicely into the car's theme as a luxury sedan, allowing the interior to have perhaps the most luxurious cupholder and bar-top setup this side of the Mandarin Oriental.
For us, the Kiwami represents a bittersweet moment in time: it was around this time that Honda's design team started to give up on the incredibly clean, focused design you see here in place of today's harlequin found in the Accord Crosstour and CR-Z. We hold out hope that the clean, simple lines of the Kiwami will make their way to a future Honda people mover or crossover in the years to come.