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.
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.
Interior of Toyota i-Road showing 1+1 seating.
Interior of Toyota i-Road showing 1+1 seating.

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.

CAR-SHARING

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.”