Attendees this week at the SAE 2016 World Congress in Detroit have had the opportunity to take the Toyota i-ROAD on demonstration rides.
Already in use in Tokyo and Toyota City, and Grenoble, France, the electric three-wheeler may be rolling out in California. It could make its U.S. debut in California cities where ridesharing and carsharing programs are pervasive, and the i-ROAD may qualify for credits in a state with tough zero-emission regulations for automakers.
“We wanted to make ride-sharing fun to drive,” says California-based engineer Christopher Gregg, who is developing i-ROAD for the U.S. market. “It can really take a curve and delivers great maneuverability through city streets.”
The demonstration rides took place on a closed track in Cobo Convention Center’s main hall. Riders experienced the rear-wheel drive steering and its 35-mph maximum speed through slaloms and tight curves.
The i-ROAD was part of a carsharing experiment in Tokyo last year. Toyota worked with Park24 Co., and its members. It was integrated to Park24’s “Times Car Plus” service, which allows members to use share cars at any time of day or night. Toyota said the trial incorporated elements from its “Ha:mo” optimized urban transport system.
In the U.S., Toyota still has to clear i-ROAD through federal and state safety regulations. That could start with the U.S. Department of Transportation determining if the i-ROAD will have to meet federal passenger vehicle crash regulations or if it would be exempt. Another issue, according to Toyota’s Gregg, would be whether it’s classified as a motorcycle subject to state helmet and other safety measures; or if it would be a neighborhood electric vehicle, which would limit its speed and the roads it can be driven on.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has conducted safety tests and issued warnings on low-speed vehicles (which are sometimes called neighborhood electric vehicles) clashing with larger and heavier vehicles in regular traffic conditions. IIHS is concerned that low-speed NEVs are designed for driving in residential neighborhoods but don’t meet safety standards for driving on roads. Regulators will be looking carefully at how safe the tiny i-ROAD would be in U.S. cities with traffic-congested streets and larger vehicles.