2018 Honda Accord Designers Tell All: Seeing the light in reimagining an American icon
It’s no easy task to remake a legend, but that just what the designers faced creating the tenth-generation Honda Accord. Anyone who has lived in the United States during the past half century has to be aware of how pervasive Honda’s signature sedan has become on American highways and byways. It has been among the top sellers in passenger cars for decades, and has established itself as the de facto benchmark against which most sedans are compared, usually to their detriment.
Now the new-generation 2018 Honda Accord is ready to roll into our collective consciousness after a global unveiling that took place in Detroit with typical Honda efficiency. No booming band. No celebrity presenters. No confetti-cannons or balloon drops. Just three well-presented versions of the next-gen sedan on a simple stage. That was fitting because in its rebirth the new Accord displays classic Honda design fundamentals, some of which clash with current design idioms sweeping across the industry. While the 2018 Accord does offer a bow to the “sedan-as-coupe” school that is virtually inescapable these days, it also pays special attention to visibility, including a low-cowl and subtle A-pillars, something most stylists have turned their backs on. The new model is longer, lower and wider, but it is also shorter (by a third of an inch) than the previous one. It has the boldest face of any Honda vehicle, yet at the same time that front end does not display the exaggerated bluster of so many contemporary designs. In short, this Honda Accord is every inch a Honda Accord. And that’s a good thing.
At the event that introduced the 2018 to the public, I had the chance to sit down with its two chief designers – Tetsuji Morikawa, Project Leader, Exterior, and Yosuke Shimizu, Project Leader, Interior. Each had surprising things to say about the 2018 Honda Accord and the process that led to its final design. The following is that interview.
JACK R. NERAD: Accord is iconic. It has been one of the most popular models in America for decades. What design challenges and opportunities did that present?
TETSUJI MORIKAWA, Project Leader, 2018 Honda Accord Exterior: First of all Accord represents the Honda brand, and by the same turn it represents the U.S. sedan. So that was the first thing that was really important to think about. So what was the first thing we did? We took the clay model of the car to the U.S. to see it in U.S. sunlight.
NERAD: So it was that important to you to see the car in the United States? Because the light is different? It’s so different that you believe it was critical to do the design in the light it would be most often seen in?
MORIKAWA: First of all to reiterate, Accord is an American car so I thought it was important to look at it in American sunlight. There were two styling things we wanted to do with the new Accord: first, we wanted a couple-like, sleek cabin and we wanted a really strong front hood. And we wanted to do that [design it] in light that made it easiest to see.
NERAD: The typical person might have a difficult time believing the light is different in the United States versus Japan. Can you explain how and why the light is different?
MORIKAWA: I’ve done design work in Europe, in Asia and in North America, and I can say the light is different. When I did styling in a German studio the light looked grayish. I’ve done styling in Italy in Torino [Turin], and there again the light looked grayish. I have an experience where I took one of the models I did the styling for to the United States, and I was really confident in that model, in all the surfaces and lines I put in that model, and when I came to the United States the light washed it all out.
NERAD: The light was too intense?
MORIKAWA: Yes. So that’s why for this model I turned around and asked my boss if I could work on the model in the United States.
NERAD: What challenges and opportunities did the Accord’s prominence in the U.S. market present to you as the lead interior designer?
YOSUKE SHIMIZU, Project Leader, 2018 Honda Accord, Interior: The biggest thing we wanted to do with the exterior styling was to emphasize fun to drive, to go back to the beginning and play up fun to drive. And we thought with a shrinking sedan segment, the people who are going to buy a sedan are people who really want to drive. To that end we rethought the packaging of the vehicle. So first we pulled the front pillars back to make a really wide front view that feels very good. We also took the front seats and moved them more to the center of the vehicle, and that creates a feeling of being in the center of the vehicle when you are driving. [To enhance the ability to command the car through turns.] Also, there are a lot of horizontal motifs in the vehicle. For some of the parts in the interior that you touch – the steering wheel, shift knob – we worked very closely with test drivers, our Honda test drivers, to try to figure out which are the best shapes. So we tried to make the design for this not something that came from our sketches but something that really came from the dynamic performance of the vehicle.
NERAD: How did your use of new materials and new technology unfold in the 2018 Accord?
MORIKAWA: In terms of new materials, for the exterior styling new materials really weren’t used, but I can talk about new technology. For instance, on the roof we used a laser brazing technology, what we call the Mohican (sic), where the side meets the roof. Then on the side, rear and head lights we upscaled it [the design] with new technology.
SHIMIZU: We did use a lot of new materials in the interior, but one thing I want to say at the outset, we wanted to make shapes and surfaces that really came from the materials we were using. We worked really hard to make metal materials have metallic surfaces, same thing with the wood–the wood-like surfaces. For example in the Touring and the EX-L there is wood paneling–now unfortunately it is not real wood–but for that there were four layers of film used to create that wood-like paneling, and that helped to create depth. We also put a lot of emphasis into the wood pattern. The pattern is a very rare type of treewood pattern. And that’s something you wouldn’t be able to do with real wood.
NERAD: What is the most exciting or satisfying aspect of the exterior design to you?
MORIKAWA: Everything. [laughs all around] I think what I’ll have to say it is the surfaces – the contrast in the surfaces. I think that we were able to create surfaces in the exterior styling that really emphasized both the strong nose and the strong front of the vehicle and the sleek cabin. And we were able to achieve that with just a few simple lines. We don’t have a lot of extraneous styling lines.
NERAD: And what were the most satisfying parts of the interior design?
SHIMIZU: I have two. I’m very confident and very happy with the steering wheel we were just talking about. I really went back and forth several times with this test driver to get the steering wheel right. So the second point–and maybe this is hard to explain to non-experts–is the roof of the cabin. It’s a little difficult to explain, but the roof lining—it’s not the kind of part that you notice, that sticks out—but if you ride for really, really long time, it feels good. You don’t get tired. It’s relaxing.
NERAD: As you say, the lining of the roof is not something the driver typically pays a lot of attention to. Why do you consider it to be relaxing?
SHIMIZU: We use the phrase noiseless [not talking about sound but simplicity], so in that area there are very few parts. And going back to my earlier point when I was talking about using materials, this is the same idea. We wanted to use the materials properly in our styling. To try to explain what was meant by “noiseless” a little further, even if you don’t notice it, in your peripheral vision if there are all these strange shapes and strange lines, it’s tiring. Over a long period of time you do get tired of it. It does start to bother you. A “noiseless” interior is about a very clean and simple interior.
NERAD: Do you have anything to add that would help our understanding of the 2018 Accord?
MORIKAWA: That would take all night [laughs] but first I’d say from the perspective of the design team, all the designers really liked it and are confident in the styling. And I speak for all of the designers when I say that everyone was really satisfied with this. The designers and developers felt they were really satisfied with what they had accomplished…and that doesn’t always happen.
SHIMIZU: All I would say is that we are in kind of a limited space here in this theater, but in the future I hope that you will get a chance to get in it and really explore. I hope you get a chance to drive it.
NERAD: Oh, I will. Unless I drop dead I intend to drive it. Thank you both.