Published on March 11th, 2014 | by Jo Borrás


Electric, Covered 3-Wheeler — Toyota iRoad — Probably Won’t Be Available For General Consumption, But Testing Is Going Well

March 11th, 2014 by  

Editor’s Note: I really, really like the Toyota iRoad, a futuristic electric 3-wheeler that is shielded from the elements. Unfortunately, Toyota doesn’t plan to make it available for general consumers. (Sob.) Nonetheless, it’s great to see that Toyota is doing some testing in a bike-share-like system at rail stations in Japan and things are going quite well. Here are some more details from Jo:

Toyota iRoad Undergoes More Trials Ahead of Production (via Gas 2.0)

The last mile. That’s the biggest hurdle facing city planners and proponents of public transport- that last mile that commuters have to cross from the train station to their home or office. For many, the answer is either walking or cycling- that’…

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

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About the Author

I've been involved in motorsports and tuning since 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the Important Media network. You can find me on Twitter, Skype (jo.borras) or Google+.

  • Hamilton

    Add auto-drive and you are looking at the near future of urban travel. In Atlanta, probably 75% of vehicles have only one passenger. With auto-drive, there is little reason to own this vehicle, but it becomes super inexpensive as an in-town on-demand product. In about eight years there will be plenty of them on the road. Bring it on.

  • Steve Yakes

    This looks like a cool vehicle, but unfortunately lacks the internal combustion complexity and maintenance that most car dealers make much of their profit on. The complexity(=maintenance) of two powertrains helps make hybrids popular with car dealers. It’s clear from the history of Xerox and other companies that a sales force can kill a product if they can’t see how to make commission from it, so maybe the fastest way to EV success on the sales floor is to go with replaceable batteries like aluminum/air (every 1000 miles or so) so the dealer has some post-sale profit. Otherwise, the Tesla sales model is probably the way it’ll have to go. I’d love to see someone come up with an iRoad type of vehicle that could be linked in side-to-side pairs (maybe with turning lean turned off) so people could ride separately or together as they wished, and I think that could get popular.

  • mds

    Too bad, looks like fun to drive.

  • Doug Cutler

    Not sure about this particular model but I guess I’m just one of those oddballs that might actually be interested in a fully enclosed scooter-trike. What’s more I want a economical low speed one I can drive in the bike lanes and zip past other cars with in heavy traffic. Must have a tidy back seat for tandem rider or small cargo. I also want wipers, a heater and a decent sound system for the full interior experience. Oh ya, and throw in a little solar panel on top. I’m waiting.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Motorized vehicles in bike lanes?

      • Benjamin Nead

        Yeah, as a bicyclist, I’d be a bit unnerved to find a full-on 3-wheeler zipping by me at highway speeds on a dedicated pedaling path. Yikes!

        Most municipalities in the US allow for pedalec-interfaced ebikes with 350W hub motors to be treated like regular bikes in regards to road laws (ie: no special registration and allowed to go pretty much anywhere a pure human-powered bike does) and I’m fine with that, as the top speeds rarely go beyond 20mph or so and the weight isn’t much more than a pedal-only machine.

        I suppose I can see the appeal of a 3-wheel road machine for some, even if it’s not something a would lust after. But even 2-seater 4-wheeled EVs (ie: Smart ED, etc.) seem like a compromise, since there really isn’t enough useful passenger/cargo space to make it worthwhile for my occasional car needs.

        A standard bicycle works for 98% of my daily work commutes. It’s just me and the distance is short. I try to limit my car use now to when I’m hauling a passenger and/or some bulky cargo . . . maybe just a couple times a week. If I had a street legal speed 3-wheeler or some super-small enclosed vehicle like that, it would be less flexible than a bike or pedalec ebike in most instance (parking, etc.) When I do need use of a “normal” 4-seat 4-wheel car, though (ie: pick up my son, one of his fiends and my son’s cello from school,) the enclosed motorcycle wouldn’t be able to do it.

        Here’s something I’ve given some passing thought to: an electric-powered trailer that clips onto the back of a standard bike . . .

        The electric-assist trailer can be hooked up only when needed to do some hauling (family grocery run, etc.) and the only thing you would need on your standard bike is a handlebar throttle control of some sort. All the heavy stuff (motor, batteries and controller) lives on the trailer. Unhook the trailer and you get your standard bicycle back. Not everyone’s dream setup, I suppose, but what is these days?

        • Bob_Wallace

          People buy small cars (mostly) to save money. Small means better gas mileage.

          Move to EVs where the ‘per mile’ cost is low and going tiny car is likely to be less attractive. Is someone likely to settle for a really cramped car when the cost of driving something comfortable is well within their budget?

        • Doug Cutler

          Hi Benjamin, here in Ontario – as I believe elsewhere – pedal assist electric bicycles and Ebike scooters are strictly limited as to speed, not just by law but by their manufactured electronics. Please see my longer reply to Bob in this discussion.

          • Benjamin Nead

            I think what alarmed Bob and me, Doug, was the idea of a highway capable 3-wheeled (very different than a 3-wheeled recumbent with hub assist) on a bike lane. Ride on!

      • Doug Cutler

        Bob, I see Benjamin got there first but here in Ontario I’ve been riding a pedal-assist 350W electrified semi-recumbent bike for years. It has a sit back seat and rides kinda like a motorcycle. The kids love it. I always get waves and shoutouts. Most notable comments: “that’s the coolest bike EVER” plus a teenage girl leans out a car window and screams at the top of her lungs – “MR., I WANT YOUR BIKE!”

        Meanwhile, little Ebike scooters limited to 32km/hr (20mi/hr) are getting more and more common in the summer and are allowed to use bike lanes. A few of those designs are actually three- wheelers. The Ebikes aren’t unnerving at all since the speed is strictly limited by the electronics. Also, riders of Ebikes tend to be far more observant of the rules of the road compared to some cyclists. Motorists have gotten quite used to them and they happily co-exist with other cyclists. In fact, a fit, hard core cyclist on a good road bike can usually out-pace them.

        Its illegal here to modify such Ebikes to exceed their categorical speed limit. 20mi/hr is not very fast but in downtown traffic use of bike lanes makes up for this quite a bit.

        Finally, you might want to check out the ELF by Organic Traffic for a comparator. Its a fairly roomie semi-enclosed pedal/electric hybrid trike. It has a crazy design, sorta like a Flinstones car but with solar panel on top! 7hrs of sun gets you a 20mi trip. As far as I know you can drive them in bike lanes in most places in US. Sells for about $4-5K. Its just a niche vehicle now but all the ELF needs is to upgrade to a luxury model when the new batteries come out and they’ll be there.

  • Benjamin Nead

    First, It’s fairly obvious that Toyota really hates EVs. They have invested their billions in conventional hybrids and will milk that technology for as long as they can. Their current generation RAV4 EV is a blatant compliance car that they all but wish they didn’t have to build. As with Honda, they are hoping to “leapfrog” Nissan’s all-electric efforts with a fuel cell vehicle (never mind that early examples will be hideously expensive and – oh yeah – hydrogen infrastructure will be even more so.) I wish the situation was otherwise.

    If it’s a 3-wheeler you desire, Jo, I can’t see any major automaker who services the US market ever offering one. This sort of thing seems to be the province of super-small start-ups (ie: Aptera) or do-it-your-selfer EV hopefuls . . .

    Most of those 3-wheelers, though, aren’t going to lean into turns . . . and this might be a good thing, unless you want that cup of coffee to spill onto your lap every time you round a sharp corner.

    On another (related) topic . . . can you tell us anything more about the ebike in the photos?

    • Bob_Wallace

      As an old sailor. Gimble that coffee cup.

      I think the largest problem for three wheelers is market resistance to “too different”. Yes, a few dozen or maybe a few hundred, maybe a couple thousand people would buy one. But it’s hard to see them become more common than bow ties.

      • Benjamin Nead

        Exactly, Bob . . . too “European” – or something along those lines – for the typical American car buyer. That and the fact that many state laws require 3-wheelers to be classified as motorcycles and drivers have to take the extra tests to drive them.

        Also . . . one of the reason’s I drink espresso is that a typical 2 shot serving fills the bottom third of a standard sized coffee cup. You practically have to do a barrel roll to get one of those to spill in your car. 🙂

    • mds

      Your first paragraph is spot on. Don’t think Toyota actually hates EVs, but you’re right they want to make money on HEVs, i.e. Priuses as long as they can. Fuel cell vehicles are just a distraction from the imminent EV solutions.

      • Benjamin Nead

        One thing that Toyota has in regards to an “ace up their sleeve,” mds, is research program dedicated to the development of a solid electrolyte battery . . .

        A lot of people are working on these right now and, when perfected, they would go a long way in making EV battery packs lighter and not requiring expensive/heavy thermal management systems needed with today’s liquid electrolyte lithium ion cells. In the mean time, yes, Toyota’s public anti-pure-EV stance comes off as a bit disingenuous.

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