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Toyota shows off electric 'microcar' at Geneva Motor Show

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Denis Balibouse/Reuters

(Read caption) A staff cleans in front of the Toyota stand during the first media day of the 2013 Geneva Motor Show at the Palexpo Arena in Geneva Tuesday.

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The annual Geneva Motor Show is a haven for weird and wonderful concept vehicles, and one of the strangest this year is the Toyota i-Road concept.

The i-Road is described by Toyota as "a new form of transport", designed as an easy-to-maneuver, zero-emissions form of inner-city transport.

We've heard that brief before, of course. It's the reason Smart exists, and Renault already has such a car in production, in the form of the Twizy.

 

The three-wheeled Toyota offers some advantages over either of these vehicles though. 

For a start, it's narrower than the Smart Fortwo. At just over 33 inches wide, it's no more portly than the average two-wheeled vehicle, allowing it to slip through gaps that regular cars wouldn't attempt.

That makes it narrower than the Twizy too, though the i-Road's second ace card is its fully-enclosed cabin, sparing you the weather-beating you'd get in a Twizy in poor conditions. Like the Twizy, it has two seats, positioned in tandem.

Like the motorcycles its width emulates, the i-Road also leans into corners, endowing it with the sort of stability that may not be possible from a rigid upright vehicle. Based on the steering input, an ECU calculates an appropriate degree of lean, moving either front wheel up or down depending on the corner.

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The system can also account for bumpy roads, keeping the vehicle level as it drives along. It can turn around in under ten feet, and unlike a motorcycle the driver need not put their feed down when stationary--the vehicle self-stabilizes.

The i-Road's powertrain is modest, but suitable for the city conditions it's designed for. Two 2 kW electric motors (that's just over 5 horsepower total) send power to the front wheels, and a small electric battery pack provides enough juice for 30 miles of running. A charge, says Toyota, takes three hours from a standard outlet--given the Geneva launch, we're guessing that refers to a 220-240V European outlet.

 

As you might imagine, there are no plans for a production i-Road as yet.

However, Toyota believes the electric vehicle's key environment is for short-distance city transport, so future electric vehicles from the company are likely to be small vehicles such as this--while hybrids and fuel cell vehicles dominate in larger cars.

Check out our full Geneva Motor Show page for more launches, photos and information from the show.

 

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