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.
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.
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.”
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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