With the exception of the Tesla Model S, which can easily cover large distances between major cities without even a hint of range anxiety, the majority of electric cars on the market today are still thought of by most as cars only suitable for urban and suburban life.
That notion is especially true of limited-range, limited-speed neighborhood electric vehicles (called quadricycles in Europe) like the tiny two-seat Renault Twizy.
But for the past two years Nissan, with the help of local government and businesses, has been operating its so-called “EV Mountain” project in the Mt. Rokko and Mt. Maya region of Kobe, Japan. Its purpose? To encourage residents and visitors to region to the explore the nearby countryside and picturesque mountain scenery by zero emission electric car, using a fleet of Nissan Mobility Concept EVs — known as the Renault Twizy in Europe.
Twenty years ago, this western Japanese city was devastated by a massive earthquake measuring 6.9 on the moment magnitude scale., killing some 6,434 people and causing damage to nearly 400,000 buildings. Since then, the region has been working hard to rebuild itself, encouraging those who had stayed clear of the area post-disaster to once again visit its beautiful seaside cities and picturesque mountains.
“It’s been twenty years since the Great Hanshin earthquake, and the inner-city area of Kobe has recovered,” explained Rokko Industries President Yasuhiro Morioka. “However, Mt. Rokko and Mt. Maya have struggled in their rebound, so we are thinking about mobility as a way to facility recovery.”
So far, it seems to be working.
Working alongside Nissan, Morioka’s company operates an EV Centre on Mt. Rokko, offering visitors rental of the two seat Twizy as a zero-emissions way to explore the local scenery. Visitors to the centre can arrive by bus, ropeway or capable car, and can rent their own 2-seat Twizy to explore for the day, with destinations offering Twizy charging to ensure range anxiety isn’t a problem.
Alongside Twizy rental, the EV Mountain project offers rapid CHAdeMO and regular Level 2 charging for those who visit the area in their own electric cars, making it a perfect day out for those who live in the city of Kobe and want to explore at weekends.
“My dream is to create a place like the Swiss resort of Zermatt, an EV Mountain on Mt. Rokko, which is connected to the city of Kobe,” he continued.
Morioka says the number of car-sharing vehicles now available through the ‘EV Mountain’ has hit double-digits, with the plan to expand the program more in the coming months as downtown Kobe grows its own “sea:mo” electric car charging program. Eventually, both he and the Kobe government hope to link the mountains — a hot spot for tourists — and the waterfront areas of Kobe together, all without burning a single drop of fossil fuel.
If this all sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Half a world away in the UK, the Eco Travel Network offers a similar way for tourists to explore rural areas of Wales and Scotland, while a similar project in Hampshire offers a similar service for people visiting the New Forest National Park in the south of England. Like the Japanese EV Mountain project, both Uk projects are proving popular with tourists.
Up the EV Mountain, one of the key attractions is Mt. Rokko Pasture, a project founded just after World War II in 1950 to promote farming in the Kobe area. Inspired by the European alps, where cows and sheep graze the mountain pastures, Mt. Rokko Pasture has become a tourist magnet, with tourists using the quiet, zero emissions Twizy to get up and close with the ruminants as they glide past.
Seeing how successful the project has become, Kobe’s government is eager to reproduce the project elsewhere.
“Kobe’s a very compact town, but tourism areas such as Sannomiya, the Kitano district and the waterfront area are rather remote,” said Michio Iizuka of the Kobe Housing and Urban Planning Bureau. “We’re looking at linking these areas together with the use of EVs. Rather than everyone owning a car, we look to promote car-sharing services.
As for the tiny Twizy runabouts? While initially envisaged as a low cost, zero-emission electric mobility solution for millennials who didn’t need (or want) a traditional car, the two-seat go-kart plug-in is proving that it can be far more than just a pizza delivery vehicle or college transport.
And that’s a very exciting thing indeed.
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