Tokyo, Japan - Tokyoites will get a chance to zip around town in Toyota's three-wheeled electric car/motorcycle from Friday, in a trial aimed at crafting a global business model to reduce gridlock and pollution.
Toyota has teamed up with Japanese car-sharing service operator Park24 for a six-month experiment leasing the i-Road concept vehicle, with a view to setting up a green car-sharing business akin to Daimler’s car2go service.
The pint-sized i-Road has two front wheels that move up and down independently of each other, allowing it to lean like a motorcycle but retain the stability of a car. Toyota has not yet decided whether to mass-produce it.
Chief engineer for the i-Road project Akihiro Yanaka explained: “Our concept was to offer something that's both fun and convenient for city driving.”
Devising smarter ways to get around - known in the industry as “smart mobility” - looks set to become a new battleground for automakers as urbanisation grows, pollution worsens, and more cars clog up cities in emerging markets.
Daimler has taken the lead with car2go, with one million-plus members in 30 European and North American cities using a mobile app to reserve the tiny Smart Fortwo car, many of which are zero-emission. Drivers pay by the minute and can drop the car off at various spots around town.
In January Ford announced its Smart Mobility initiative that would involve various types of trials around the world including a car-sharing service in London.
Toyota also has car-sharing experiments underway in its namesake city as well as in Grenoble in France, but Tokyo would be its first in a major metropolis, which it says would benefit most from the i-Road.
Toyota's Smart Community department group manager Toshiya Hayata said: “Data shows that about 70 percent of cars in big cities are occupied by one person, with most travelling less than 10 kilometres; that means the mode of transportation doesn't have to be a car.”
In the upcoming trial, users can lease one of five i-Roads from the upmarket Ginza shopping district for ¥412 (R35) per 15 minutes, dropping it off at any of five spots in the capital.
To turn the trial into a viable business, Toyota said it would need to slash costs both for the i-Road and for operating a car-sharing network.
“But Daimler doesn't have anything smaller than the Smart,” Yanaka said. “If we can make it work, the i-Road could have an advantage.”