Zachary Shahan (@zshahan3)
July 7, 2014
I don’t know what it is about the Toyota i-Road. The way it slickly turns? The cute design? Its small size yet weather protection? The fact that it’s electric? Or a combination of all four plus a bit more? But this is a vehicle I’d actually like to buy.
Unfortunately, for now at least, the all-electric Toyota i-Road is only available in a couple of carsharing schemes where it is still being “tested.” It is being used in Japan as a “last leg” vehicle for rail commuters (in Toyota City, home of Toyota’s main production plant), and in October, 70 of these vehicles are launching in a carsharing scheme in Grenoble, France. The trial scheme, part of a “Smart City” network, will run for 3 years. (I really hope they don’t wait three years to bring the i-Road elsewhere.)
Here are a few videos of the 3-wheeled beauties in action:
Watching that top video, the i-Roads remind me of Olympic speed skaters. There’s something so slick and efficient about them. (The choreographed visualization surely contributes to that image as well.)
Being so small and electric, this is more efficient than probably any other car on the road, including the limited-production VW XL1. Used in carsharing services, it will also encourage people to drop the idea that they have to own a vehicle.
Apparently, the i-Road doesn’t just look cool, but also offers an enjoyable driving experience. In the second video above, some of the early testers in Japan emphasize that it’s a lot of fun to drive, it dashes off the line quickly, “the way it leans in is a lot of fun,” it offers a very different feeling from a normal car, “you really feel in control of the driving experience,” and “you really feel like you’re at one with the vehicle.” (OK, I think we’re getting a little too personal now, buddy.)
The smart city program in France, explained in the third video, looks pretty nifty too. It’s actually a Toyota system and the video doesn’t mention France, but my understanding is that’s what will be trialled in Grenoble.
The system, Ha:mo, will allow you to see and avoid traffic congestion via a smartphone app, will notify the bus service if a line is very busy so that another bus can come along and ease up the passenger congestion, and will allow you to reserve an i-Road (aka Ha:mo Ride) via the app and also zap it (at least that’s what it looks like) to get it to back up and let you in.
It’s a little utopian, and almost humorously cheesy, the way it is presented, but it looks like it could be a very useful system for improving transportation efficiency and the human experience in cities. We’ll see.