DETROIT, Jan. 10 Honda's concept commuter vehicle, the City Pal -- already part of a demonstration program in Japan -- is on display at the North American International Auto Show.

The City Pal is a two-seat, advanced electric vehicle designed for use in Honda's Intelligent Community Vehicle System (ICVS) at Honda's Twin Ring Motegi motorsports complex in Tochigi, Japan.  ICVS is a regional traffic system for the near future, suggested by Honda.  This research program integrates alternate modes of transportation, including car sharing, with existing systems to help ease traffic congestion, alleviate parking shortages and reduce air pollution.

In 1998, ICVS began at Twin Ring Motegi where Honda tests how ICVS members share the use of environmentally friendly vehicles such as the Racoon, an electric power-assisted bicycle; Mon Pal, a single-seat electric car; Step Deck, a one person hybrid car; and City Pal.  Using advanced technologies, each vehicle is accessible from various port locations to ICVS members using an ATM type "smart card."

When the number or mix of vehicles at ports becomes unbalanced, a system worker driving an ICVS vehicle, like City Pal, can lead up to four unmanned vehicles to another port using inter-vehicle communications systems and ultra-wide angle laser radar.  If the car returns with a low charge, the vehicle is automatically moved to a charging terminal and recharged.

The City Pal is a front-wheel-drive, extremely compact vehicle, as wide as it is high at 5.4 ft. (1,645 mm) and 10.5 ft. (3,210 mm) in length.  It reaches a top speed of 68 mph (110 km/h) and can go approximately 80 miles (130 km) on a single charge.  City Pal has a large luggage compartment and offers comfortable passenger space.  Standard features include an advanced navigation system and air conditioning.

The ICVS concept also is being tested in the United States.  In February 1999, American Honda Motor Co., Inc. partnered with the University of California, Davis' Institute of Transportation Studies in Riverside, Calif. for CarLink, the first car-sharing system in the U.S. to use smart-card
technologies.  For this ICVS program, members share the use of 12 natural gas-powered Civic GXs.  The vehicles are assigned to them when they use their smart card.

In March 1999, Honda joined with the University of California, Riverside's College of Engineering Center for Environmental Research and Technology in Riverside, Calif., in the program.  Members of this research program share 15 EV PLUS electric vehicles that they access using their smart card from one of three port locations.

In the CarLink and IntelliShare programs, onboard electronics monitor vehicle logistics, customer use and vehicle location, then transmit this information to a command center.

By testing these systems, Honda can gain real-world information on consumer acceptance of car sharing, allowing researchers to further refine the concept.