While electric cars like the Nissan LEAF were once marketed as the ultimate urban car, there’s no denying that electric cars really come into their own when cruising silently along peaceful country lanes, accompanied by beautiful vistas and the sounds of nature.
To celebrate that very fact and encourage drivers to enjoy the last few weeks of summer weather before the start of fall, Nissan Europe even produced a video showcasing what it said was the five most breathtaking roads that you could take an electric car along this summer.
Those routes — including one across the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol UK just miles from our current offices — are indeed well worth trying out for yourself if you happen to live in any of the regions mentioned, but over in Japan Nissan has gone ones step further, combining electric car rental with a holiday in Japan’s famous northern hot spring region.
Enter Tokamachi, a city in in the Niigata Prefecture of Japan. During the winter, thousands of people flock to the city to take part in its famous Snow Festival, the oldest snow festival in the entire nation. But while the city is famous for 10+ feet of winter snow and its annual snow festival, it is also known for its ancient hot springs which sprout up from underground all around the area.
Known as onsen in Japan, these hot springs are revered for their medicinal purposes and have drawn visitors to the region for hundreds of years. A particularly warm onsen at the ski resort of Matsunoyama is said to produce water that is near boiling point, thanks to the super hot magma lurking just beneath the earth’s crust in that region.
As a consequence, many Japanese city dwellers book a summer vacation at the resort to unwind and take in the joys of the famous hot spring and tour the beautiful countryside the region has to offer.
But at nearly twenty-three times the size of Tokyo, getting around the region isn’t easy. And while visitors can opt to take their own gasoline cars to explore, Japan’s excellent nationwide fast charging infrastructure for electric cars makes it particularly easy to use an electric car instead.
Which is where Nissan Rent-a-Car and Japan Travel Bureau come in. Working with local onsen inns and other local businesses, visitors to the area allows inn patrons the chance to book online and receive a special IC card that allows them to tour the region in a zero-emission electric car.
Kazunari Yanagi, Senior Vice President at the Chitose inn in Tokamachi, explained that the local history and abundance of geothermal energy made the car sharing program particularly enticing from an environmental point of view.
“Matsunoyama is particularly hot onsen and spring water nears 98 degrees Celsius, and can produce electricity,” he explained. “We thought that EV car-sharing with the Nissan LEAF would be a good fit for our patrons.”
Thanks to Japan’s famous Bullet Train — which passes by the region — tourists don’t even have to drive from Tokyo to escape the hustle and bustle of megacity life. With the bullet train around an hour to get from Tokyo to the Isen Inn in the Niigata Prefecture for example, customers can ensure their entire holiday is powered by renewable energy.
“We currently have an Arts Festival this summer, but we actively try to preserve and promote the Snow Country culture, and the natural environment that we want visitors to experience,” explained Tomohiro Iguchi, President of Isen Co. and head of the Snow Country Tourism Association. “Thus, this combination of Nissan EV car-sharing and regional promotion is a good mix.”
Nissan and Snow Country Tourism Association say the program is already proving popular, with plenty of tourists spending their entire vacation in the region without burning a drop of fossil fuel in the process. While there’s no news if the program will be back next year, we’re guessing its popularity this summer should ensure an extension of the program for many years to come.
We should note at this point of course that using electric vehicles to tour the countryside is no new thing. Half a world away in Wales, the Eco Travel Network joins up tourists in another mountainous and ancient land to the diminutive Renault Twizy two-seat quadricycle. While originally designed as an urban commuter vehicle, the Renault Twizy has proven itself popular with tourists keen to explore the Welsh countryside in complete zero-emissions silence.
Have you been on vacation to somewhere this summer where you’ve been able to hire an electric car to explore? What did you do? Or perhaps there’s a place near you where you’d like to see tourist electric car rentals take off?
Let us know all about them in the Comments below.
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