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The Motocompacto is small and light enough – just 41.3 lbs (18.7 kg) – to be carried into an apartment or office, or to store in a trunk for short in-city trips. (SAE/Sebastian Blanco)

Honda Motocompacto folding scooter is an accessory with pep

Honda’s past and future merge in this little electric rectangle.

As strange as the new Honda Motocompacto looks, it’s not the automaker’s first folding scooter. The Motocompacto is an updated, all-electric version of the Motocompo scooter that Honda sold in Japan in the early 1980s. Like that earlier two-wheeler, the Motocompacto will be sold as an automotive accessory, this time as a first-mile/last-mile conveyance for the 21st century.

“Accessory” is an accurate word for the Motocompacto. When folded, the EV is just 3.7 inches (94 mm) wide, 21.1 inches (536 mm) tall and 29.2 in. (742 mm) long. At 41.3 lb. (18.7 kg), the scooter can be carried short distances without too much effort, good for walk-up apartments or lecture halls deep in an academic building. That’s the type of person Honda says will be most interested in a Motocompacto, along with SUV drivers or RV owners who want to keep a Motocompacto or two in the back for short rides.

The Motocompacto has a top speed of 15 mph (24 km/h), a maximum range of 12 miles (19 km) and can accelerate from 0-15 mph in 7 seconds, but all of these figures are affected by the weight of the rider. The scooter can hold riders up to 265 lb. (120 kg). A full charge of the 6.8 Ah battery takes 3.5 hours from a standard, 110-volt, 15-amp outlet. The direct drive, 490-watt permanent-magnet motor provides up to 11.8 lb-ft (16 Nm) to the front wheel.

SAE Media was able to take a few test spins of the tiny EV in a parking lot in the Detroit area in October, along with unfolding and refolding the scooter. In both riding and the compacting process, the Motocompacto feels solid. It provides the kind of ride one might expect from a flat plastic rectangle with wheels. It’s all incredibly functional, if not exactly comfortable.

To convince Honda fans to try out a non-traditional vehicle like the Motocompacto, Honda added sensors that require the EV to be fully unfolded before it can power on, said Nick Ziraldo, design engineering unit lead of the accessory development division at Honda Development & Manufacturing of America. A twist mechanism that has to be fully locked sits in the main handlebar. There’s also a sensor in the rear-wheel assembly to ensure the wheel is completely and fully deployed.

“We wanted to inspire confidence,” Ziraldo said. “All the latching mechanisms have a dual latch. The cam clamp has a clip to make sure it doesn’t come off unintended. I think once everything’s deployed, you can be confident this thing’s solid and in place, kind of worryfree, especially for a new user. It’s easy to use, it feels safe and stable. And that was really the spirit we tried to bring to the end product.”

32 new patents
There were no specific engineering solutions that Honda learned while developing the Motocompacto that will directly affect Honda’s 4-wheeled passenger vehicles, Ziraldo said, but the automaker did get 32 patents from the project, roughly split evenly between the folding mechanisms, the styling and the software, including the Motocompacto’s companion phone app, which allows riders to configure the default startup mode, light settings and other details.

“There was tons of design freedom,” he said. “When there’s so many unknowns like that, you really try to optimize the mechanisms and do something new and unique.”

Even if the Motocompacto’s patents and ideas remain in the two-wheel realm, Ziraldo said the team that worked on the mobility scooter felt a “grassroots” spirit that makes them excited for other creative projects inside the 75-year-old company that originally started by making auxiliary engines for bicycles. The Motocompacto, after all, started as a sketch by someone (who has since left the company) in Honda’s North American auto design studio in Torrance, California about three years ago. It’s now a real thing that can be ordered from any Honda dealer in the U.S. for $995.

“The reception of this so far has been really positive,” Ziraldo said. “This was an idea that we championed to the company and they supported us from the top down to allow us to launch this thing. So I’m excited to see what else [we can do]. [Developing] the next one’s gotta be easier than the first.”

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