Are You AFEELA’n It? This Is the Electric Car Sony and Honda Are Working On01/05/2023
Cast your mind back to 2020, when Sony surprised us with an electric car concept, the Vision-S. After an SUV variant appeared and a couple of quiet years passed, Sony announced a partnership with Honda, called Sony-Honda Mobility, which would build cars (ostensibly electric ones) in the United States. At CES 2023, Sony showed a prototype and announced a new brand name for the whole enterprise: AFEELA.
Yes, we’re a little disappointed by the moniker. We were hoping the new brand might be called TriniTransportation, perhaps with an inaugural model called the PlayStationWagon. (Had Sony partnered with Nissan, the car could have been called the BetaMaxima or the PlayFinder.) Still, while we may not be AFEELA’n the brand name, we’re excited about the yet-unnamed car—and not just because we have a production timeline (pre-orders in 2025, first North American deliveries in spring of 2026). Given the powerhouse of partners Sony and Honda have assembled, this could be the first car from the tech industry that actually, y’know, works.
Unfortunately, SHM—er, AFEELA didn’t give us many of the details us gearheads care about—horsepower, range, number of motors, etc. We know it’s a five-passenger sedan-ish thing, nearly as long as Acura’s MDX SUV but with a roofline nearly 10 inches lower, and that it’ll have all-wheel-drive. Given the timing and Honda’s partnership with General Motors, we imagine it could utilize that automaker’s Ultium running gear and battery. We wondered if it might share bits with Honda’s upcoming Prologue electric SUV, though the AFEELA concept’s wheelbase is nearly 4 inches shorter.
Styling-wise, the AFEELA prototype looks much like the earlier Sony Vision with its creases and character lines eliminated, as if someone attached an air hose to the Vision-S01 sedan and gave it the ’91 Chevrolet Caprice treatment. The pixelated headlights remind us of the Hyundai’s Ioniq 5’s glassed-over, recessed units, and there’s something vaguely Citroen-ish about the overall design, though we can’t quite say what, specifically, speaks French. The stand-out exterior feature is the Media Bar, a video screen between the headlights that Sony says will interact with passers-by: Besides the charge state, Sony showed the Media Bar displaying local weather and advertisements for Sony Pictures films. Notably, the screen is the only place besides the steering wheel where the AFEELA name appears, so maybe there’s still time to change it.
Out back, the AFEELA concept features a Kammback shape with a Porsche-style full-width taillight, and there’s a panoramic sunroof up top. We can see what appear to be red brake calipers through the narrow gun-slits in the AFEELA’s wheelas… sorry, wheels.
Inside, the AFEELA goes for the minimalist look, but not quite to the degree of a Tesla Model 3. Instead, the dashboard has screens stretching from pillar to pillar arranged in a way that seems remarkably similar to those in Honda’s e EV hatchback from overseas, including side-view camera displays at the outer edges. The steering wheel is a yoke; let’s hope it’s backed up by something like Lexus’ variable-ratio steer-by-wire system rather than Tesla’s lame yoke implementation. Sony is, of course, talking about autonomy—that’s one of the three As that make up AFEELA’s brand pillars, the others being Augmentation and Affinity—but, so far, only of the Level 2 and Level 3 types, which are (mostly) achievable with the current state of the art.
Back to those giant screens: it’s what’s on them—and behind them—that is worthy of note. Honda isn’t Sony’s only partner for the AFEELA; the car will use Qualcomm’s SnapDragon Digital Chassis, which is not a chassis in the traditional car sense, but rather an electronic backbone that handles everything from telematics to communication to in-car entertainment—in other words, the kind of things tech companies like Qualcomm and Sony are good at, and that traditional automakers like Honda often aren’t. The Snapdragon system supports multiple OSs, and given how Sony likes to combine efforts of it various divisions—think of the Sony Pictures Gran Turismo movie, based on the Sony Interactive Gran Turismo game and shot on Sony cameras—we imagine the in-car entertainment is going to be pretty darn entertaining.
Another partner, surprisingly, is Epic Games, developer of the Unreal Engine, which has found use outside the video game world as an augmented reality system. Sony’s description of this partnership ventures off into techno-marketing-speak (“Enhancing the value of mobility space, we will expand it into entertainment and emotional space, by seamlessly integrating real and virtual worlds…”) but we see some pretty nifty opportunities for augmented reality—navigation, perhaps, or points-of-interest pointed out to the kiddies (provided they can look away from the PlayStation games on the screen).
All of which is to say, though the car itself (and the name) looks sort of meh, we’re excited about the Sony/Honda collaboration. We’ve seen several startup automakers that launched vehicles while boasting about freedom from the traditional approach to automaking, and while the offerings have been exciting, they don’t always work in the real world. Sony has teamed up with Honda, a company that, if nothing else, knows how to make cars work very properly. Sony-Honda Mobility has the limitless optimism of a tech company, with partners and a product portfolio that can deliver on those dreams. The name isn’t great, the styling is a bit dull, but the prospects of the AFEELA are exciting—and we’d certainly rather drive a Sony car than walk, man.
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