Toyota will allow Tokyo residents to trial its three-wheeled electric car-cum-motorbike concept vehicle from tomorrow.
Slimmer than a car, the i-Road is has two front wheels that move up and down independently of each other, allowing it to lean like a motorcycle while retaining the stability of a four-wheeled vehicle.
Toyota has not yet decided whether to mass-produce it, but it will partner with Japanese car-sharing service operator Park24 for a six-month experiment leasing the vehicle, with a view to setting up a green car-sharing business akin to Daimler's car2go service.
"Our concept was to offer something that's both fun and convenient for city driving," i-Road chief engineer Akihiro Yanaka told Reuters.
In the upcoming trial, users can lease one of five i-Roads from the upmarket Ginza shopping district for 412 yen ($3) 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 thei-Road and for operating a car-sharing network.
‘Smart mobility’ – devising smarter, greener ways to get around major cities – is the latest battleground for automakers as urbanisation grows, pollution worsens, and more cars clog up cities in emerging markets.
"Data shows that about 70 per cent of cars in big cities are occupied by one person, with most travelling less than 10 km," said Toshiya Hayata, group manager of Toyota's Smart Community department. "That means the mode of transportation doesn't have to be a car."
Toyota already has car-sharing experiments underway in its namesake city as well as in France's Grenoble, but Tokyo would be its first in a major metropolis, which it says would benefit most from the i-Road.
In January, Ford announced the Ford Smart Mobility initiative that would involve various types of trials around the world including a car-sharing service in London.
But Germany's Daimler has taken the lead in the marker with car2go where drivers pay by the minute to use tiny Smart Fortwo cars, many of which are zero-emission. The scheme has more than a million members in 30 European and North American who use a mobile app to reserve the cars, which can be dropped off at various spots around town.
"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."