TOKYO -- The Japanese government is hoping to drive down carbon dioxide emissions by steering people toward ultracompact cars. The idea is to encourage the elderly and parents with small children to use highly fuel-efficient vehicles as a means of short-distance transportation for shopping and other daily activities.
There is a limit to what can be done to improve the gas mileage of gasoline vehicles.
Also, in rural areas, it is increasingly difficult to fuel cars due to a lack of gas stations there. With these factors in mind, the government hopes to promote the use of fuel-efficient electric vehicles (EVs). However, current battery technology does not enable EVs to drive long distances, according to specialists.
Ultracompact vehicles were developed on the assumption that they will be used for short-distance transportation. They are light and compact and only carry a small number of people, which means they use energy more efficiently than other vehicles.
"If ultracompact cars are recognized as an ordinary means of transportation, they should become more popular," a Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry official said.
Acting in concert with the government's efforts, automakers are taking steps to improve the capabilities of ultracompact vehicles. Nissan Motor Co.'s NMC is modeled after Twizy, a leading auto model sold by French automaker Renault in Europe, and many previous technical problems have been resolved.
Coms, a super-compact electric vehicle developed by Toyota Auto Body Co., a group company of Toyota Motor Corp., is designed for one occupant and its size is smaller than the accredited size of ultracompact vehicles. Coms is sold as a type 1 motorbike, priced between 660,000 yen (about $,6,688)and 800,000 yen (about $8,100).
Nissan and Toyota Auto Body both plan on making improvements to their products in line with safety standards to be decided by the government after a two-year trial period.
Ahead of Japan, ultracompact vehicles with efficient energy-saving functions are gaining popularity overseas. These vehicles are especially popular in Europe, where environmental awareness is strong.
Since Renault's Twizy was introduced to the public in spring 2012, about 3,000 vehicles have been sold in Europe. Another French automaker, Peugeot, also developed an ultracompact vehicle, called BB1.
U.S. research company Frost & Sullivan estimates that more than 150 kinds of new ultracompact vehicles will be sold worldwide by 2020, as automakers in several countries have begun developing these types of cars.
With the introduction of these new ultracompact vehicles, the market size based on the number of vehicles produced is expected to expand and reach about 490,000 vehicles in 2018. Over 60 percent of them will be sold in the European market and 20 percent in the Asian market, according to the research company.