A new company out of Japan called HW Electro wants to be the first manufacturer of electric vehicles in the country’s hotly contested commercial kei car segment. Its first concept, the Puzzle, is a battery-electric van that conforms to Japan’s strict kei car specifications. Unlike most other kei car makers, however, HW Electro hopes to bring the Puzzle to North America.
The van debuted at the Japan Mobility Show in October, then came to New York for a publicity shoot. The company is making it explicitly clear that it has plans for U.S. sales, even spending some time driving around New York city streets as part of a promotional video.
Other than a friendly robot face there are few design flourishes. Like many kei cars, the Puzzle maximizes interior space by employing completely flat sides. It puts them to good use as well, as the roof doubles as a large solar panel. Most of the smooth exterior panels are swappable for different color combos, possibly different materials, and for ease of repair. That, and the fact that the interior has pegboard-like holes for modular configurability, are where the Puzzle gets its name from.
HW Electro intends to deploy the Puzzle into disaster zones where infrastructure might be incapacitated. The vertical panels beneath the A-pillar hide multiple 100v AC and USB outlets, as well as a charging port and first-aid kits. A large crowbar resides in a rear storage compartment.
Few details were given, but Auto Evolution reports a lithium iron phosphate battery that provides a 125-mile range. Conforming to kei car spec, the Puzzle measures no more than 134 inches long, 58.3 inches wide, and 78.7 inches high. That’s almost two feet shorter than a first-gen Scion xB.
The Puzzle prototype currently only has two seats. One hiccup that HW Electro may encounter is the decades-old chicken tax that imposes a 25% tariff on light commercial trucks. Vehicles like the Ford Transit Connect circumvented the rules by installing easily removable seats to the cargo area, thus classifying it as a passenger vehicle. It’s also the reason why Toyota, Nissan, and other Japanese truckmakers have built factories in the U.S. To succeed in the states, HW Electro may have to employ one of these strategies, but otherwise it looks like a well-designed and functional little runabout.