Toyota Launches i-ROAD Electric Runabout Open Road Project in Tokyo, Encourages 3D-Printed Customization

Despite its rather vocal opposition to battery electric cars in favor of hydrogen fuel cell technology, Japanese automaker Toyota announced a new electric car program in Tokyo, where its tiny leaning i-ROAD ultra-compact electric city vehicles will take part in a new study called the Open Road Project: a program designed to examine on how micro electric vehicles can be used in a busy urban environment.

Toyota's funky i-ROAD urban mobility electric vehicles will soon be driving Tokyo's busy streets.

Toyota’s funky i-ROAD urban mobility electric vehicles will soon be driving Tokyo’s busy streets.

Its unique party trick — to lean from side to side like a motorcycle when cornering — means that top speed is particularly exhilarating when weaving in and out of city traffic


Occupying the grey area between a motorcycle and a car, the iROAD urban mobility vehicle is a three-wheeled, fully-electric, enclosed, single seat electric vehicle. With two wheels up front powered by two tiny 2 kilowatt electric motors and a single-rear wheel providing steering, the i-ROAD does take some getting used to. Yet it features car-like controls, along with a space for a small amount of luggage behind the driver, making it strangely familiar for anyone with a driving license. When it first debuted as a concept car back at the 2013 Geneva auto show, the i-Road actually featured two seats, but since entering into limited production as a test-fleet vehicle on various car share schemes around the world, it has lost that rear seat in the interests of practicality.

In keeping with other low-speed, urban-based vehicles like the Renault Twizy, the Toyota i-ROAD isn’t designed for the open highway. Instead, it tops out at an electronically-limited 60 kph (37 mph). Yet its unique party trick — to lean from side to side like a motorcycle when cornering — means that top speed is particularly exhilarating when weaving in and out of city traffic. The amount of lean depends on how fast the car is travelling, and how quickly the steering wheel is moved.

The i-ROAD can enter into places a normal car can't.

The i-ROAD can park in places a normal car can’t.

That particular trick is accomplished by articulating the front wheels on on independent computer-controlled arms that can raise or lower each wheel independently to initiate a lean. That same feature also means the i-ROAD can stay perfectly upright when travelling across uneven terrain, with each wheel rising or falling with the road surface.

In previous fleet test programs in Toyota City, Japan and Grenoble, France, Toyota has shown the i-ROAD has what it takes to operate as ‘last-mile’ transportation in a multimodal system that involves full-size cars, public transport and electric car share programs. It has also shown the i-Road to be the perfect tourist vehicle for car-hire programs.

Its latest project will focus on seeing if the i-ROAD can be used as an everyday commuter vehicle for Tokyo residents by sharing ten i-ROAD electric vehicles among 100 different carefully-selected Tokyoites.

The i-ROAD can stay perfectly upright when travelling across uneven terrain, with each wheel rising or falling with the road surface

Starting in July this year, Toyota will lend each participant a Toyota i-ROAD for a short period of a week or so, giving them the chance to see what life could be like with the leaning urban runabout. Participants will use it to drive to work, go shopping and see friends — in fact, everything that you might be able to do with a diminutive three-wheeler or conentional two-wheeled scooter.

Participants will then be asked to provide feedback on their experiences, which Toyota says will be used to help it “develop products and services that will build on the key strengths of the i-ROAD.”

Part of the Open Road project will involve allowing users to make custom 3D printed parts.

Part of the Open Road project will involve allowing users to make custom 3D printed parts.

In addition to finding out how well the i-ROAD in its current form satisfies the needs of urban commuters in a city known for its tight streets and lack of parking spaces, Toyota is inviting fans of the limited-production low-speed vehicle to design 3D Printed snap-on body panels and trim parts that can be easily exchanged in a few minutes, allowing future drivers the chance to customize their i-ROAD in the same way that Smart ForTwo drivers have been customizing their cars for years.

It will also investigate how unconventional parking spaces can be made in locations too small for a traditional car, and how easy it is to charge the tiny electric vehicle from a standard 100-volt domestic outlet rather than the dedicated charging stations used by larger, more powerful electric vehicles.

You can find out more about Toyota’s Open Road project at its dedicated website, or watch some of the i-ROAD themed videos Toyota has produced by following the YouTube video above.

What do you think of the i-ROAD? Do you live in a busy urban environment? Would you like to commute the final mile to work in one every day? Or would you feel vulnerable in the underpowered three-wheeler if you had to share the road with large semis and aggressive taxi cabs?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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  • How exactly “Toyota is inviting fans to design 3D Printed snap-on body panels and trim parts”?
    Are they going to provide the 3d designs free to the public so that everybody can customize the parrts?

  • Phil

    To most car journalists the i-Road went under the radar. But I consider it the most important vehicle since… the Prius, also by Toyota. You can feel Toyota is very sensitive and cautious about i-Road. Not perse for safety reasons. But because it may affect car sales. Let’s face it, most of the times we sit all alone in our cars. Next step might be to expand usage of such a vehicle by making a larger version. It would be like having your cake and gobble it up too: the sort of fun motorcycle riders experience, a thing of beauty and more economic too.

    • I’m going to admit that I’m a fan of single-seat or tandem-seat plug-ins. I’m also brutally aware of their limitations after owning both a City El and Renault Twizy in the past ten years.

      (For those who don’t know what the former is, here’s a photograph of four City Els (or rather, two City Els and two Mini Els) on my driveway back in 2008)

      The City El in particular was wonderful in its concept, but let down by poor engineering and execution. Mine suffered punctures on an almost monthly basis due to the high rolling-resistance tyres. It suffered regular breakdowns due to the use of parts that weren’t designed for the high-current applications they were used in. And it had a limited top speed of 30 mph. (I later changed that to about 55…)

      The Twizy too, was built to satisfy regulations — or rather to fit in between them. As a quadricycle, it has a limited top speed, which is a complete shame because as a full-blown 70-mph vehicle with upgraded motor it would be completely insane to own.

      As a biker, I find these tiny microcars are great when it’s wet and horrid outside. When putting leathers on would either end up with you being drenched, or so hot that you’re sweating your own bodyweight every hour in water.

      Sadly however, for the average buyer, who wants the same convenience and functionality as a car, cars like the Twizy and the i-ROAD are simply too much of a compromise. I’m not talking necessarily about space: speed and range seems to be the key factors.

      I’m eyeing up two Corbin Sparrows on ebay right now. Post-emigration, I’d love to own one as a project car to see just what they could do. But it would be a motorcycle substitute, and very much a hobby car.

      • Phil

        Hope I can tell you more about my vehicle project within 4-5 months. I’m a biker too. Not as often as I’d like to, but still… IMO, there’s a huge void between cars and motor scooters, that can be and should be filled for all sorts of reasons. Let’s say that i-Road is working on closing the gap from the motor scooter side.

    • Anthony

      I love this layout also. Some of my favorite concepts through the years;
      Now also have a Sparrow ‘project’

      1st image a Mathes(ICE), 1940’s France; concept vehicle was created/hidden in Paris during the war.
      2nd, 3rd images of Ford’s 1981 Ghia concept(ICE or hybrid). I’d have bought either of those in a flash…then converted it 😉

  • rogwild

    Great idea for the Urban Commuter (if they live in the city). For the US market where many live in the ‘suburbs’ and have roads with 45-55 mph speed limits to ‘get to town’; a ‘sport’ version with a 50-60 mph top speed and an increased range 50-75 miles would be needed. If they come out with an i-Road Sport….. I’m in line!