Association, Inc.

Issue No. 2, 2013

Micro mobility

by Peter Nunn

Small cars have long been big news in Japan and a good fit for the market. Today, however, the definition of “small” is perhaps starting to take on a different meaning.

A new category of radically-downsized one/two-seater vehicles is now opening up in Japan as makers set about rethinking the parameters of personal transport. Nissan, Toyota, Honda, Suzuki and others have all come up with their own interpretations of this new vehicle type—essentially a small, handy-to-use EV that is lighter and more manoeuvrable than a conventional car, takes up far less space, and has low running costs yet top-level environmental performance with zero emissions. The theme is “micro mobility” and these tiny eco vehicles are also a direct response to changing times in the market.

Put simply, Japan, like other countries, is an ageing society confronting a dwindling birth rate. Car sales are under pressure and many people are downsizing. So the time is right for a new type of ultra-compact eco vehicle: simple, flexible, practical to use, which could spur new interest and hopefully revitalise the market. On a national level, micro mobility would also help conserve energy—at a time when world energy demand looks set to soar—and reduce CO2 emissions.

Suzuki QNissan New MobilityHonda Micro Commuter

Looking at some of the micro-vehicles that have been presented so far, including Suzuki’s Q, the Nissan New Mobility Concept and Honda’s Micro Commuter Prototype, we see a tiny electric car, under 2.5 metres long, with central driving position.

Daihatsu PicoPackaging is such that some have a configurable interior that allows, say, a parent to travel with one or two small children. Freedom of movement is another key to the micro mobility concept—in other words, increasing the opportunities for families and elderly people to get out and about in a quiet, easy, eco-friendly way. Short-distance commuting and car sharing are further possible avenues. Home-delivery services might well pick up on micro mobility too.
Toyota i-RoadAnother in this novel EV genre is Daihatsu’s Pico, a prototype that’s seen as bridging the gap between a minicar and a motorcycle. At the recent Geneva Motor Show, Toyota presented yet a further interpretation via the i-Road, a tilting three-wheeler with two-person tandem seating and fun, motorcycle-like manoeuvrability.

Toyota WingletBut this next-generation mobility can get even more compact. Honda and Toyota, for example, have both shown cutting-edge ideas for single-person mobility devices. Honda UNI-CUBToyota has presented the Winglet, a simple, personal transport-assistance robot that can be ridden in the standing position. Shown to date in three versions, the Winglet, its maker says, is designed to contribute to society by helping people enjoy a safe, fully mobile life. Honda’s UNI-CUB is ridden sitting down and follows the same overall theme—ie, it’s a personal mobility device to assist you from getting from A to B, perhaps within a large office complex.

So, micro mobility is on the move in Japan, and it could be that the next chapter will unfold at the coming Tokyo Motor Show this winter.