With no B-pillar in the new Honda Element sport-utility, Honda engineers faced a challenge: how to strengthen the vehicle for side impacts.
The B-pillar was eliminated in favor of rear-hinged rear doors. With both rear and front doors open, the vehicle has a wide opening to load twentysomething men's cargo - surfboards, mountain bikes and camping gear.
The solution was to attach the rear doors to the floor of the vehicle.
"Most of the force from a crash goes to the floor, so we increased the strength of the floor and the strength of the connection from the door to the floor," said Gary Evert, design assistant large project leader for the Element, at the New York auto show. "We used hook and latcher mechanisms."
The reinforced portion of the rear door is attached at two points to the floor and at one point at seat level. Eric Schumaker, Honda R&D North America's exterior design manager, said, "If we didn't make the doors work and if we weren't going to hit our safety tests, we were going to kill the car."
The Element will be built at Honda's East Liberty, Ohio, plant and will go on sale in the fourth quarter. It will be available in two-wheel and all-wheel drive and will retail between $16,000 and $21,000.
The truck is based on Honda's small-car platform also used for the Civic and CR-V. It has a 2.4-liter
160-hp engine. Honda expects to sell about 50,000 units of the Element in its first full year of production.