Many American automakers are helping produce much-needed medical equipment to support COVID-19 relief efforts on U.S. soil, but others are also doing their part in different ways and different places. In Japan, for example, Honda has begun converting two of its most popular models to transport patients that need to reach medical facilities. These vans have been outfitted with special pressurized zones to ensure sick patients are separated from the people driving them—but not just physically separated, of course—these now feature special air-sealed compartments to make sure a possible virus isn’t spread within the cabin.

The Odyssey, which we all know and love Stateside, is now performing the critical duty in conjunction with the Stepwgn, a slightly different van that’s delightfully tall and boxy—like many Japanese-market vans are. 

This is how Honda did it: the vans’ HVAC system was modified to create two distinct and fully independent zones within the cabin. Up front, the driver and front passenger sit in a pressurized area, where the air conditioning unit draws in air from the outside and gets filtered for that section of the vehicle only. To separate the two zones, Honda engineers added a partition to seal off airflow between the front and rear. The rear portion of the vehicle is pressurized to a lower level, which creates airflow from the front to the rear of the van. Air reaches the rear area through channels in the floor and in the headliner. Then, a new vent was added near the rear bumper to remove air from the vehicle without it recirculating through the cabin like it would on a normal van.

Production of the vans has begun at Honda’s Saitama Factory and should expand to other parts of the company’s operations throughout the country. Honda says that vehicles will be lent to more communities in Japan that have the greatest number of infections. It’s worth noting that the vans are meant to transport people that have mild or no symptoms, not patients that show severe or worsening conditions. 

Adding to the modified vans, Honda is also cranking up the production of protective face shields in Japan, which should start before the end of May. Here in North America, the company says that it gathered 200,000 units of PPE for donation to area medical facilities, which included gloves, face shields, N95 masks, alcohol wipes, half-mask respirators, and other gear. the Technical Development Center at the Honda Heritage Center in Marysville, Ohio was converted to manufacture compressors for medical ventilators in partnership with Dynaflo. Five other facilities are 3D-printing face shield frames and are working on new production methods that use existing injection-molding technologies.

We’re all in this together, folks.

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