The ingenious Toyota i-Road program combines the convenience of a bike rental service, the comfort of an enclosed car and the compact footprint of a motorcycle in this electric three-wheeler that is being tested by rail commuters in Aichi, Japan in self-service vehicle-sharing stations. The program has initially been successful, with a growing amount of repeat users and high adoption rates.
There are now plans to introduce a car-sharing fleet of nearly 70 vehicles in the town of Grenoble in the French Alps, for a three-year test, starting at the end of 2014. The program is being adopted as solution for reducing greenhouse gas reduction targets.
The two-seater i-Road is designed for the “last mile” mobility needs of commuters that might otherwise bike or walk, thus complementing existing public transportation systems. Unlike a motorcycle, the enclosed cabin keeps the elements out. The i-Road has a single rear wheel that pivots and the vehicle uses an Active Lean technology for tight, stable turns. The i-Road automatically leans around corners, and Toyota says no specialized skill is required to operate it. With a width under 3 feet, the i-Road has motorcycle-like maneuverability. No helmet is required to operate the vehicle since it is enclosed, and because it can’t exceed 30 miles per hour, no driver’s licence is required to operate it.
The all-electric Toyota i-Road has a range up to 31 miles, produces zero emissions while in operation with a lithium-ion battery, and requires roughly three hours to be charged. No special charging infrastructure is required, as it can use a standard household power outlet. The i-Road uses a pair of 2-kilowatt motors, mounted within the front wheels. It can travel up to 28 miles per hour and has an ultra-compact body that is ideal for urban maneuvering. At 7.7 feet in length, it is also easier to park in urban areas. The i-Road does have an interior heating, audio and lighting system, but doesn’t appear to have air conditioning at this point.
Toyota’s long-term plans for the i-Road are unclear, and some doubt that it will make it to the American and European markets. Perhaps the i-Road will remain part of the sharing economy only. Currently no private sales of the vehicle are available. Toyota hasn’t disclosed a price if the i-Road were on the market.
The vehicle certainly does serve a niche market that isn’t served by the bike, motorcycle, or traditional automobile. The challenges are that it achieves relatively low speeds only, with a modest range and requires charging — making it best suited for short-distance urban drivers.
There certainly is a lot to love about the i-Road too. The maneuverability makes it look like a lot of fun, and it’s small size makes it convenient to park, even in the most crowded cities. No special charging infrastructure is needed, so the i-Road seems really convenient.
Toyota’s secrecy around the i-Road’s future makes the future unclear. It is likely still being determined, but vehicle-sharing is a smart way to test the vehicle in the meantime.
Image credit: Toyota
Sarah Lozanova is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Mother Earth Living, Green Building & Design, Triple Pundit, Urban Farm, and Solar Today. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and she resides in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.