The 2015 Honda Fit is a small car. A subcompact car. A global car that moves families in Japan and Gen Y members in the U.S. It is a car that’s sold in 160 countries. Makoto Konishi, the large project leader (i.e., chief engineer) for the 2015, an all-new model, the third generation, says that they aimed to develop the “Super Cub” of the automobile industry, referring to the small motorcycle that Honda originally introduced in 1958, a bike that gave rise in the U.S. to the advertising slogan “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.”
But here’s an interesting aspect of the Fit. People may want a “small” car in terms of overall dimensions for purposes of maneuverability in urban environments. And they undoubtedly associate “small” with “good fuel efficiency.” And the Fit delivers on both of those aspects, as in the entry-trim LX model, with its new 1.5-liter direct injected DOHC four with i-VTEC mated to a new continuously variable transmission (CVT) providing an EPA estimate 33/41/36 mpg. And as for size, its length is actually less than the previous model (161.1 in. down to 160 in.). But the wheelbase is increased by 1.2 in. to 99.6 in. The height is the same at 60 in., and the width has been increased by just 0.3 in., to 67 in. The turning radius is 35.1 ft, curb to curb. Yes, it is a small car. By way of comparison, the Honda Civic sedan is 177.3 in. long, has a 105.1 in. wheelbase, is 69 in. wide, and 56.5 in. high. Clearly bigger. On the outside.
But people who buy subcompacts don’t necessarily want to get Lilliputian interior space. So Konishi and his team went to work at taking the Honda product philosophy “Man Maximum, Machine Minimum” to a whole new level.
Consider this: the passenger volume for the 2015 Fit is 95.7-ft3. The passenger volume for the 2014 Civic sedan— remember: a bigger car—is 94.6-ft3. What’s more—and it is more—the cargo volume for the Fit with its seats up is 16.6-ft3, while the Civic offers 12.5-ft3 in its trunk. (Yes, there is something to be said for the architectural differences between a tall, five-door hatch and a classic three-box, four-door sedan, but it is to prove the point of the Fit’s fundamental capaciousness. And if you put the rear seats down, the so-called “Magic Seats,” which fold flat, the amount of space that can be achieved for cargo is 52.7-ft3. Hiroaki Hamaya, senior product planner, even folded the front passenger seat down and managed to put a 9-ft surfboard in his Fit along with two 6-ft boards.)
Achieving the spaciousness wasn’t all a matter of coming up with clever seats. Various aspects of the car were examined, both inside and out.
The fuel tank, for example. The Fit has had a center-located fuel tank rather than locating it at the back of the vehicle. For the 2015 model, they redesigned the tank so that it is lower and wider than the previous generation’s tank (and, at 10.6 gallons, actually a gallon smaller, but the improvement in fuel efficiency makes up for the difference). Previously, the tank was located between the floor frames; now the tank is above the frames. Approximately 1 in. of vertical room is achieved through this tank redesign.
There is a narrow, single fan radiator used. This contributes to an engine bay that is some 4 in. shorter than the previous model, and this helps provide additional room in the cabin.
The wheel arch design is modified such that less space is required to attach it and the rear suspension trailing arm is shortened, both of which help improve rear passenger leg room.
Small things contribute to a bigger package.
According to Rick Schostek, executive vp, Honda North America, one of the issues that Honda faced with the Fit in the U.S. market is that as it was being produced in a plant in Japan, which was serving a variety of other countries, as well as the U.S., there was a capacity constraint. Hayama points out that according to projections from IHS Global Insight, the subcompact market is expected to grow 3.6% by 2019, which is more than double the rate that the overall car segment is projected to grow (1.64%).
All of which means that Honda needed more capacity for the Fit, so they built their eighth plant in North America, in Celaya, Mexico. This $800-million (U.S.) plant will have a 200,000-vehicle capacity when it is fully operational. It is specifically designed to produce subcompact vehicles, the Fit, as well as a crossover that Honda will be building on the Fit platform later in 2014. It should be noted that Honda sells some 5.16-million Fits globally, and with Celaya, has 11 plants building the product.
The “mother plant” for the Fit—the plant where the initial production was carried out—is the Yorii plant. Much of the technology in that plant is replaced in Celaya, such as a high-speed servo stamping press and a high-speed die change process. Honda has always been fast on its die changes. They’re claiming that with the processes they’re now deploying, the efficiency in stamping is improved by 40%.
While new plants tend to have a high number of robots as a bragging point, in the case of the Celaya plant, they are deploying a new general welding system that reduces the number of robots needed to assemble the body panels to the inner frame while increasing the number of spot welds used to assemble the car.
The paint shop in Celaya has a 3-coat/ 2-bake water-based process rather than a traditional 4-coat/3-bake process. In this case, there is a 40% reduction in energy consumption and an improved finish for the vehicle.
For both weight savings and safety enhancement, there is an extensive use of high-strength steel in the Fit, with 27% of the body being built with steel that’s 780 MPa or higher. This helps reduce body weight by 44 lb. compared with the previous Fit. They’ve also made changes in the way some components go together to save weight. For example, previously, there was a door inner, a door sash, and a door outer assembled. Now there are a door inner, stiffener and door outer that are pressed together; there is adhesive bonding of the flanges rather than spot welding. The new door assembly process saves about 6.6 lb.
Does this mean that the 2015 Fit is significantly lighter than the 2014 model? No. The 2014 is available with a five- speed manual and a five-speed step-gear automatic. The base models weigh 2,496 and 2,577 lb., respectively. The 2015 Fit is available with a six-speed manual and a continuously variable transmission. The respective weights for models with those transmissions are 2,513 and 2,544 lb. Why isn’t there a bigger difference? Because of additional content for the 2015 vs. the 2014.
After all, everyone wants more, even in small packages.