“Ultra-compact cars,” small vehicles that can carry one or two people, could be hitting public roads as early as this summer.
The transport ministry plans to ease regulations on such vehicles, expected to be widely used as a means of next-generation short-distance transportation.
While Japanese automakers have been developing ultra-compact cars, up until now people have not been allowed to drive them on public roads because the laws regarding this type of vehicles are unclear.
The ministry believes that if small cars like these are allowed on public roads, automakers will step up their development efforts in this area, anticipating the emergence of a promising market.
According to guidelines released by the transport ministry on June 4, the ultra-compact is a one- or two-seat vehicle that is smaller than currently classified “mini vehicles,” which have a maximum engine displacement of 660cc.
The ministry thinks these small cars--about the size of golf carts--will create a new demand because they are suitable for senior citizens and others traveling distances up to around 5 kilometers. The ministry also said the smaller cars, which will mostly be powered by electricity, will have less of an impact on the environment.
Under the planned relaxed regulations, the ministry will put ultra-compact cars into the mini vehicle category.
Ultra-compacts that have no side windows do not currently meet the safety standards for mini-cars, but the ministry plans to allow such cars to travel on public roads with an official permit, on condition that they will not be driven on highways and will travel only short distances.
The ministry also plans to limit areas where ultra-compact cars can legally be driven on public roads, with such areas to be chosen from applications submitted by local governments.
Automakers, meanwhile, want a new category to be created for ultra-compact cars. Depending on how popular these vehicles become after regulations are eased, the ministry will look into creating a new category for them. If a new vehicle category were to be created, it would be the first since 1963.
Nissan Motor Co. has been developing the two-seat Nissan New Mobility Concept car, while Daihatsu Motor Co. has been working on its Pico two-seater.
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