Japan, a country known for its small vehicles, including the tiny kei cars, is looking to downsize. The Japanese transport ministry has unveiled guidelines defining a new class of electric cars known as ultracompacts.
In Japan, the ultracompacts span the gap between the kei cars which have engine displacements up to 600cc and motorbikes with engines up to 55cc. They are big enough for only one or two people and in the two-passenger cars being developed, the passenger sits behind the driver, as they would on a motorcycle.
They are small: the Nissan New Mobility, which is based on the Renault Twizy, is fourteen inches shorter than a Smart ForTwo, a car most Americans regard as tiny. The Nissan is also a foot narrower than the Smart; it’s just a tenth of an inch over four feet wide. The Pico, which is being developed by Daihatsu, has similar measurements and fore-and-aft seating arrangement.
They’re also fairly slow; the New Mobility/Twizy takes six seconds to reach 45 kilometers per hour (about 28 mph), just slightly longer than it takes the Smart to reach 30. But that’s probably okay: Japanese officials see the ultracompacts as most suitable for the elderly and tourists.
This new breed of personal transport actually is not yet street-legal in Japan but the ministry believes they will eventually be approved, at least for short trips.
After review of the proposed guideline, the government plans to establish a certification program by next March that will define specifications and safety standards, envisioning the cars will be mass-produced in the foreseeable future.
France will actually deploy an ultracompact before Japan; the Renault Twizy, shown above as it cruised around in downtown New York City, is scheduled to go on sale in Europe this summer.
To watch an interesting video of the Twizy, click here.