Why didn't I think of that?
Clever people ask themselves that question all the time, which is why a collective forehead slap went through the auto industry recently. Automotive engineers who have produced talking cars, swiveling headlights, retracting cupholders and ferocious amounts of horsepower somehow never thought of this simple idea: a car with a built-in vacuum cleaner.
Until now. Honda recently showed off the new signature feature on next year's Odyssey minivan: the HondaVac, which is built into the driver's side wall of the rear cargo area and comes with a hose and two attachments that allow you to reach every nook in the vehicle. This overdue feature required no breakthrough innovations, other than a momentary flash of insight.
As with many great ideas, a child provided the spark. A Honda engineer was driving with his family one day about three years ago, and lamenting the typical detritus that tends to pile up in a minivan. "You know what we need in here, Dad?" his 10-year-old daughter said. "A vacuum cleaner." Back at the office in Raymond, Ohio, the engineer (who Honda chose not to identify) raised the idea of building a vacuum cleaner that would be installed and wired directly into the vehicle. Honda began to research where such a gizmo might be located, how it might be powered, how much space it would take up and who might want it. Market research suggested Moms in particular might go for such a feature, making a minivan the obvious vehicle to launch it in.
Honda contracted with Shop Vac to produce the canister-type vacuum (dry only), which takes up about as much space as a shoe box, plus additional space to stash the coiled hose. Since every cubic inch of a vehicle these days tends to serve some purpose, Honda had to eliminate two storage pockets in order to fit the vacuum—a pretty modest tradeoff.
The vacuum will run continuously with the engine on, or for eight minutes with the engine off, so that it doesn't run down the battery. People who want to cut down on dust can use a bag inside the canister, but it works without one as well. When the canister's full, you just pop it out and empty it into the trash. "It's a simple idea," says Tami Giammarco, lead interior engineer for the 2014 Odyssey. "We asked ourselves, 'how has no one thought of this before?' "
Initial buzz suggests the HondaVac will be a big hit—among the few customers who can afford to be early adopters. The vac will come standard on the top trim line of the 2014 Odyssey, which should go on sale this summer at a starting price well above $40,000. Honda hasn't said yet whether it will be available on lower trim lines, but if it catches on as expected, it probably will.
It's also a good guess that other automakers started working on their own vacuums the moment they heard about the Honda innovation—and there's no reason the idea can't spread to SUVs, crossovers, sedans and even compacts. Just about everybody likes a tidy car, and unlike some of the other newfangled features on vehicles these days, even kids can run a vacuum.
Rick Newman's latest book is Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback To Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.