Toyota’s new i-Road personal mobility vehicle (PMV), designed for city streets, will this week make its world debut at the Geneva Motor Show, in Switzerland.
Seating two in tandem and under cover, the concept i-Road model – a cross between a very small car and a motorbike – is a three-wheel electric vehicle, with a range of up to 50 km. Neither the driver nor passenger needs to wear a helmet.
It is the latest concept to emerge from what the Japanese car maker calls “40 years of research and development of vehicles that use less energy”.
Developing the vehicle forms part of Toyota’s process to use its hybrid synergy drive technology in plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, electric vehicles (EVs) and fuel cell vehicles (FCVs). While hybrids, plug-in hybrids and FCVs are ideal for mainstream use over medium to long distances, Toyota believes EVs could serve as a main mode of transport for short urban journeys.
Toyota believes people using a vehicle such as the i-Road want something that is “more comfortable, offers better weather protection and is safer than a two-wheeler, such as a scooter or motorcycle, but has similar benefits of low running costs, easy parking and around-town manoeuvrability”.
The i-Road is 2 350 mm long and 1 445 mm high, and has a 1 700 mm wheelbase. Its most significant dimension, though, is its width: at only 850 mm, it is no wider than a conventional motorbike.
Not only does this make for easy manoeuvering through congested traffic, it also means four i-Roads can be parked in a single parking bay.
The zero-emissions, all-electric powertrain uses a lithium-ion battery to power two 2 kW motors mounted in the front wheels, giving brisk acceleration and near-silent running. Recharging is through a conventional domestic power supply and takes three hours.
Toyota says its new, intuitive Active Lean technology is the key to i-Road’s “high levels of stability, safety, comfort and fun-to-drive character”.
The system uses a lean actuator and gearing mounted above the front suspension member, linked via a yoke to the left and right front wheels. An electronic control unit calculates the required degree of lean based on steering angle, gyro-sensor and vehicle speed information, with the system automatically moving the wheels up and down in opposite directions, applying lean angle to counteract the centrifugal force of cornering.
The system also operates when the PMV is being driven in a straight line over stepped surfaces, with the actuator automatically compensating for changes in the road to keep the body level. The minimum turning circle is three metres.
No special skills are needed to pilot i-Road, says Toyota.
There is also no need for the driver to stabilise the vehicle when manoeuvring at low speed, or when it is stationary.
As the driver does not have to put his or her feet on the road surface at any time, i-Road can be fitted with a safer, weatherproof, closed body and can be driven without wearing a helmet. This design also allows for a more car-like environment on board, with the potential for features such as lighting, heating, audio and Bluetooth to be added.
Toyota envisages its i-Road concept to have the potential to play a significant role in reducing urban traffic congestion and air pollution.
“Commuters can use public transport or conventional private vehicles to travel to urban perimeter transportation hubs where they will transfer to the Toyota i-Road to complete their journeys into the city centre,” states the company.