Toyota’s vision of the future is not only trained on hybrid and electric vehicles that replace family cars. The automaker is also concerned about urban mobility especially as commuters from New York City to Tokyo face congested streets. A personal mobility vehicle (PMV) concept called the i-Road might be Toyota’s solution to poor circulation through megalopolises. Visitors to the recently concluded 2013 Geneva Motor Show marveled at the i-Road’s diminutive frame and advanced steering system. The Toyota i-Road is not slated for production anytime soon but this concept could meet the needs for urban commuters concerned about comfort, safety and environmental impact.
The i-Road uses an all-electric version of Toyota’s Synergy Drive system to produce zero emissions as well as minimal noise. This three-wheel PMV features a lithium-ion battery pack that provides power to a pair of 2 kW electric motors on the front axle. Toyota notes that the battery pack can be recharged fully in three hours using a standard household outlet. The i-Road could achieve a per-charge range of 30 miles based on estimates by Toyota. A driver and passenger can fit inside of the i-Road thanks to a tandem seating arrangement. Toyota touted this concept as a solution not only to traffic jams but parking as four i-Roads can fit into a standard parking spot.
Another innovation displayed in the i-Road is the Active Lean system. Active Lean uses a gyro sensor, lean activator and specialized gears to facilitate smooth turns. These components work with the left and right front wheels to eliminate common problems for two-wheel vehicles. An onboard computer analyzes the severity of the driver’s turn, vehicle speed and readings from the gyro sensor to facilitate a safe turn. Toyota touted a turn radius of nine feet, allowing enough maneuverability to work through traffic and complete most turns. The Active Lean system also operates when the driver is traveling on a straight line, offsetting bumps and stabilizing passengers despite difficult road conditions.
Toyota might not have the i-Road on the fast track to production but the concept was presented with a clear marketing message. This PMV concept requires no additional skills or licensing as the Active Lean system reacts like a four-wheel vehicle. Drivers and passengers need not worry about helmets thanks to the vehicle’s fully covered body. The i-Road also provides climate control similar to a car, eliminating the bracing winds and harsh precipitation that confronts bikers and scooter owners. Toyota even pointed out that drivers won’t need to emulate Fred Flintstone by setting feet on the ground to stabilize their vehicles.
A focus on urban mobility would certainly allow Toyota to drive up demand not only for PMVs but hybrids and electric vehicles used in car-sharing schemes. The ideal metropolitan commute according to Toyota starts when a driver uses public transportation to reach a hub with PMV and plug-in vehicle rentals. These vehicles would be available at hourly or daily rates and parked at approved spots anywhere in the city. This process repeats during the trip home and can be replicated every day in big cities throughout the world. The i-Road could spur competing automakers to join the fray and support a comprehensive reimagining of the commuting experience.