Image credit: CES 2023

Is The Afeela Brand From Sony & Honda The Future Of Mobility?

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Sony and Honda are teaming up to create a new car company called Sony Honda Mobility that will bring the world a new electric car brand — Afeela. A concept car was on display in Las Vegas at CES 2023 earlier this month, and from what we can tell from the reaction, it mostly got a big yawn from the online community. That may be because it is a rather plain-looking sedan finished in dull satin gray. The world is not exactly beating down the doors at automotive dealerships to buy sedans these days.

It may also be because the name the two companies chose for their joint enterprise is about as emotional as aluminum foil. Useful and practical? Absolutely. But exciting? Hardly. So far, the internet has been buzzing about how awful the name is instead of talking about how wonderful the car is. In tennis, that’s called an unforced error, and it has caused the new company to stumble out of the gate. It’s impossible to know who came up with that unfortunate moniker, but it sounds like something generated by a computer, not a human.

What Is Afeela?

So far, very little is known about the Afeela concept car. Autoblog says it presumes the car has dual electric motors and believes the car is about the same length and width as the Hyundai Ioniq 6. The concept car features 45 cameras and sensors, all from Sony. They will be employed in the vehicle safety systems which are being developed by Honda. Qualcomm is supplying the car’s computer chips. Sony claims the car will be capable of Level 3 autonomous driving in some situations, but will require driver attention in other conditions, such as urban driving, where Level 2 driver assistance will be available.

The cars will be built at one of Honda’s factories in Ohio and sold primarily online. Pre-orders for the production model will be accepted in the first half of 2025, with the first deliveries to North American customers beginning in 2026. That’s about all anyone knows about Afeela. The company has put together a gauzy, touchy video that focuses on the car’s connected features and entertainment capabilities. Notice the full width screens that stretch from door to door and the video displays that take the place of door mirrors.

It’s What’s Inside That Counts

The Verge has done a deep dive into Afeela. It explains the car itself is basically just a container, a transportation module stuffed full of the entertainment and gaming options Sony is famous for. It spoke to executives at Sony Honda Mobility who said the automotive space is seen as the next natural frontier for Sony’s media business, allowing it to offer in-car movies, music, TV shows, and gaming opportunities. “We found out we can make one more entertainment space in mobility, like a living room” in car form, Sony Honda Mobility COO Izumi Kawanishi said in an interview with The Verge.  “We already delivered the PlayStation, the Walkman. The mobility space is one more market for us.”

Jessica Caldwell, an auto industry analyst for Edmunds, said, “We have been talking about cars moving into a virtual living room for well over a decade at this point. It seems like the focus is being taken away from the design of the car, per se, and more towards the features of the car and what the car can do for you.”

“On the surface level, this is two of Japan Inc.’s best known, finest companies in their respective fields coming together,” said Tyson Jominy, VP for data and analytics at JD Power. “When you combine a consumer electronics company with the auto space, I guess the expectation is that magic will happen.” He added that Honda is well known for its excellence at manufacturing automobiles and that Sony “has found a fantastic partner, certainly one of the most blue chip of blue chip auto companies to partner with.”

Jominy added, “From Honda’s perspective, they’re basically getting a client or customer to help pay for their own EV development and to catch up. There definitely is some kind of hesitation on Japanese automakers to really go fully into the electric car space, but I think they are recognizing that this is where things are heading. It seems from Sony’s perspective, this is a full integration of its users, from home to work via your car and everything in between. It’s now an extension that lets us take our personal lives portable.”

The Car As Entertainment Device

At CES, Sony Honda Mobility CEO Yasuhide Mizuno told reporters his company plans to lease its cars for up to 10 years — much longer than most cars are owned today. Those leases will be supported by frequent over-the-air software updates and feature additions. “If we sell the vehicle itself, we have to support it for 10 years, a very long time to provide our services. Basically, it is a long term business.”

Kawanishi was very clear about why Sony is getting into the car business. It plans to chase a new business model that could upend the industry as we know it. “The important thing is software,” he said. “We have to strengthen our software technology. That means we can provide mobility services for the future. We have to change the business from hardware to software.”

Afeela isn’t about profiting from selling individual cars or dealerships making money from repairs. It’s about longer term leases and financing terms, with owners paying for various upgrades and features through the life of the vehicle, The Verge says. Tyson Jominy thinks the transition to subscription features is “inevitable,” especially with car companies having to stick to price limits under the Inflation Reduction Act for their vehicles to qualify for tax incentives. Automakers could offset that by holding tight to base car prices while adding in more features drivers have to pay for over time.

It’s all pretty much how the mobile phone business works today — the hardware is not so much the key, Izumi Kawanishi explained. “It’s like the smartphone business. The mobility industry should be changed to that kind of model.” Is the world ready for such a transition? Certainly many manufacturers are exploring how they can generate new revenue streams with subscription services. Whether the general public will support that idea is another question.

Afeela: Autonomy, Augmentation, & Affinity

On its website, Afeela explains itself this way: “Autonomy, Augmentation, Affinity. The 3A’s are the direction in which our mobility grows. The new values that we want people to resonate with.”  Then it amplifies on each with gauzy language that soothes but reveals very little of substance:

  • Autonomy: Autonomous intelligence for mobility. Where we aim to create the essential foundations for safety and security. Using sensors and many intelligent technologies, we will realize mobility with peace of mind.
  • Augmentation: Mobility space built upon safety and security presents the possibility of enjoyment beyond driving. We will explore new experiences for mobility that go beyond what we thought time and space be like.
  • Affinity: Mobility that is open to people, open to society. Together with our customers, creative professionals and partners around the globe, we expand Afeela’s possibilities. We will present a free and open environment.

Here at CleanTechnica’s graphene-infused galactic headquarters, we had a kumbaya moment when we read that. Now that we understand what Afeela is all about, we all agreed that 2026 can’t get here fast enough!

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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