Could Narrow Cars Solve Our Transportation Problems?

toyota_i-road

You’ll laugh the first time you see a narrow car on the road.

There aren’t many just yet, so unless you’re driving the streets of Japan, San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Seattle, your odds of seeing a narrow car are about the same as stumbling across a traveling fleet of motorized La-Z-Boys.

Narrow cars do exist, however, and it seems they might be starting to pick up steam, at least judging by media coverage for the last month or so.

The most famous narrow car in the news right now is the Toyota i-Road, a 3-wheel tandem 2-seater that is testing in Japan. It’s funny looking, but the i-Road, and cars like it, could shape the future of mobility.

The i-Road is unlike any other vehicle ever built. The single rear wheel does the steering and a set of gyroscopes and accelerometers keep the car upright as it leans into corners. Here’s what Road & Track said about driving one,

With the gyroscope keeping the center of the vehicle balanced and the rear hub moving separately, turning in the i-Road is more like pivoting on a central axis. For a sharp turn-in, you “tuck” the nose into the corner earlier than you normally would because the rear of vehicle is what carries you through the turn. There also seems to be a brief pause as the computer reads the situation and swings the back end around. When you’re used to vehicles moving as one, it’s very odd. And kind of addictive.

Toyota built the i-Road to reduce congestion and ease parking struggles in dense urban environments. The goal was to create something small, maneuverable, and fun, and the i-Road seems to deliver.

There are just a couple of problems with it, though. First, the top speed is about 35 mph, which means the i-Road will never see freeway time. Secondly, as a 3-wheeler, there are safety issues that will need to be addressed, especially if it is ever sold in the United States.

Oddly enough, an American company invented a narrow commuter car to address the same issues many years before Toyota introduced the i-Road. This one, though, can also be used on the freeway.

tango _t600_parked

The Tango T600, built by Commuter Cars, does everything the i-Road does and more. It has four wheels, is all-electric, and seats two people. Four Tangos can park in the space of one parallel parking spot. Plus, the Tango is basically a supercar, with a 0-60 time of about 3 seconds. Passing and lane splitting on the highway turns into a safe and practical endeavor with a Tango. Its top speed is 135 mph, a full 100-mph faster than the i-Road.

According to the company’s website,

We have designed the Tango around a roll cage that meets or exceeds FIA racecar regulations. FIA is an international racing sanctioning organization that specifies cage design to protect the occupants of cars crashing at over 200 mph.

With narrow cars on the freeways, traffic capacity could increase without the need for building additional lanes. Parking spaces would be more plentiful and cities could generate more revenue by allowing more cars to park.

The U.S. has become much more EV-friendly over the last five years. There are more mass-market electric cars, more charging stations, and more car buyers who are more willing to accept the limited range inherent to EVs. Once consumers get used to the idea of narrow electric cars, the future of mobility will be better for everyone.

Even if it looks a little funny.

Could you see yourself driving a narrow car?

-tgriffith

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