Association, Inc.

Issue No. 2, 2013

Japanese auto manufacturers promote micro-vehicles for lower emissions and easier mobility

With the challenges of environmental protection and demand for mobility occupying the political and industrial agenda in the transport sector, Japanese automobile manufacturers are developing innovative micro-mobility solutions. Seating one or two people, lighter and much more compact than conventional vehicles and providing superior environmental performance, electric micro-vehicles represent greater possibilities for urban mobility.

Real-world testing and ongoing development have shown micro-vehicles to offer easier mobility in suburban areas and within city centres, in addition to opening up short-range mobility options for elderly people, for example, or drivers accompanied by one or two small children. The electric motor and lightweight construction of these vehicles mean zero emissions, lower running costs, and optimal manoeuvrability for short-range trips. They can improve the quality of life for their drivers, passengers, and pedestrians alike and also help promote regional development and tourism by making it easier to access local attractions.

Based on the results of such testing, Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) is formulating guidelines for micro-vehicles, covering everything from their crash safety to their headlamp and tail lamp placement and the roads on which they will be permitted to run.

Adjusted standards for seat size and seatback impact-absorption capacity, seatbelt strength, and child restraint systems are being recommended for micro-vehicles, on the condition that they be allowed only on roads with speed limits not exceeding 30km/h. This is similar to the situation in the EU, where two-seater micro-vehicles are accorded their own special classification, between mopeds and small cars, and a regulatory framework appropriate to their size and performance.

The benefits of micro-mobility in conserving energy and reducing congestion and vehicle emissions are being recognised in the EU and encouraged through European Commission-supported research and demonstration projects such as the Green eMotion initiative. This project, by analysing the real-world operability of electric cars (similar to demonstration projects being carried out in Japan), is intended to provide input for the development of standards for a Europe-wide electromobility system that will enable vehicle users to charge their vehicles anywhere in the region.

Harmonised standards and regulations for micro-vehicles should, in JAMA’s view, be developed jointly among Japan, the EU and the rest of the world. Government support for micro-mobility, by promoting easier mobility for a greater number of people that will also contribute to energy conservation and cleaner road transport, will help the world address key issues confronting it today.