Toyota i-Road poised for production
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Three-wheeler blends best of motorcycles with benefits of a car
The Toyota i-Road may not push any boundaries for electric vehicles with its estimated 40-kilometre battery range and top speed of 60km/h, but this three-wheeler potentially offers commuters an easy-to-park alternative to a car.
The Toyota i-Road is an electric three-wheeler that blends the best bits of a motorcycle – being nimble, compact and fun to drive – with the benefits of a car – staying out of the elements, less exposed to impacts and more comfortable for longer distances. It's small, too: about half the width of a Yaris, and just over 2.5 metres in length.
It uses a unique rear-steering single wheel and a pair of front outboard suspended wheels that allow the i-Road to lean in corners. If you lean to far, the steering wheel pulses to let you know you should settle it down, but we were told it is impossible to tip it over when riding.
After driving the i-Road for a second time in Japan last week, CarAdvice remains convinced that a vehicle such as this is a no-brainer for commuters looking to get to work. It is warmer and drier than a scooter or motorbike, and easier to park than a car due to its diminutive size.
Toyota i-Road chief engineer Akihiro Yanaka admitted that this is a vehicle that can change peoples’ minds about what they really need in a day-to-day traffic.
“It’s been one year since we started the testing in Grenoble, and now we are running a trial that is taking place in Tokyo,” he said.
“We chose people for a one-month trial and it showed how convenient peoples’ lives became. That’s the feedback we’re receiving from the general audience.”
Yanaka suggested that if the i-Road were to make it to market, the price would be an important consideration.
“The possibility [of this vehicle making it to production] is quite high, we don’t deny it,” he said.
“However, the project we are running at the moment is to find out who is going to use this car and how this car is going to be used.
“Without feedback we can’t decide. And depending on how the feedback from the market and general population we have to decide [if we have] to give the car another function, or do we sell the car as is? Those have to be decided,” Yanaka said.
When asked if it could be priced comparative to a small car or an electric motorcycle, Yanaka suggested that it could sit in between.
“It’s not a simple comparison, is it? So, Vitz [Yaris] is small, however to sell it in EV, that would be expensive,” he said.
“We don’t have any specific marketing plan. But in my opinion it’s more complicated than bikes. This has a cabin and the whole compartment is protecting the rider, so the price should be higher than a motorbike,” he said.
In Europe the i-Road is legally allowed to be used as a two-seater – yes, there is a tandem passenger seat in the back, though it has no seatbelt, unlike the front. But because it’s similar to a car, the Japanese government is not allowing tandem use of the vehicle despite the fact it’s legal in most circumstances to carry a pillion rider on motorbikes, and neither occupant in that instance has seatbelts, either.
“Physically and technically it is okay for one person riding, however we really need to find out what the general market’s need and demand as well. If they want two-seaters, we don’t want to sell one-seaters, do we?”