Story by Rod Charles
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor
On its website, Toyota billed the vehicle, which is making its first appearance in Canada, as a unique three-wheeler that combines the styling and manoeuvreability of a motorcycle with the protection and comfort of a small car. This electrically powered vehicle — total width of only 870 millimetres (2.9 feet) — takes up just one quarter of a conventional parking space.
The vehicle dramatically leans into its turns, which looks a little strange when you see it in action, but this movement apparently ensures a feeling of stability that is very different from driving a car or motorcycle (sadly, I wasn’t able to test drive it at the show). This is where the similarities end, because unlike motorcycles the i-Road has a closed cabin so passengers don’t need to worry about the weather or wearing a helmet.
Vacay.ca has written several stories about road trips, and a wonderful part of the Canadian travel experience is being able to hop in the car, motorbike or camper and just go somewhere beautiful. But while there is joy in driving, we all know there are also more than a few headaches. There are more cars on our roads than ever before and this impacts everything from the environment, the way cities are designed, the length of time it takes to make a trip and safety due to congestion.
i-Road is designed to be an Aspirin tablet to at least a few of these headaches, but there is still more work to be done. The EV is powered by lithium-ion batteries — that’s a good thing — but this vehicle can only travel for about 50 kilometres on one charge based on a constant speed of 30 km/h. On top of that, there obviously isn’t a lot room in this vehicle for yourself, spouse, kids, family dog and luggage.
But one area where a vehicle like this could have a tremendous impact is in the tourism industry itself.
Three-Wheeled Wonder Could Shake Up Canadian Travel
When I first saw the i-Road I immediately recognized what a vehicle like this could mean for great walking cities like Ottawa or Quebec City. Quebec’s capital in particular is a great walking city that must deal with unique traffic challenges — especially in the historic, fortified district where summer days bring thousands of cars and people into a tight area. Imagine an urban tourist magnet like Quebec City renting out i-Road vehicles for people to use on those twisted, cobblestone roads? Imagine how much easier it would be for someone dealing with a personal injury to get around and see more attractions. Imagine how much space could be saved.
Something else that crossed my mind were Canada’s National Parks. Could a vehicle like the i-Road create more accessibility for people to explore areas that are too delicate for your typical automobile but also too difficult for anyone except the most experienced bikers? Could a vehicle like the i-Road — too slow for our major highways but just quick enough to whisk you through a park, allowing visitors to enjoy more sights and sounds, be the future of travel to a national park?
Imagine making the drive or flight to your destination and then leaving your car at your hotel parking lot so that you can jump into an i-Road to see certain city districts up close? We already have bike trails — could there one day be trails for single- or double-seat three-wheeled electric cars? Could the i-Road be a way we see some of our favourite destinations and attractions in the future while leaving a fraction of the environmental footprint behind?
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Stephen Beatty, vice president of Toyota Canada, says these questions have crossed his mind as well. He says there are several installations, campuses and tourism attractions where the i-Road vehicle can be used.
“Parks Canada is one of those potential customers. And I don’t think it’s limited to that. I think if you imagine the vacationers or tourists who go to urban centres like Quebec City, Vancouver, Victoria, I think this would be a great vehicle to have in car sharing in any one of those centres. It’s very easy to drive, and it could be one of those great alternatives for getting around the city,” says Beatty, adding that the CIAS was Toyota’s opportunity to gauge public opinion and see if it’s something Canadians are interested in. “Here’s a vehicle that’s designed for that type of very tight urban space. More importantly it’s electric so no emissions. It’s small, so it doesn’t take up a lot of space and it can co-exist nicely with other traffic that’s on the streets.”
There is a demand for car manufacturers to come up with ways to lessen the impact tourists leave on our cities and national treasures. Time will tell if the i-Road catches on but it’s clear Toyota may be on to something. Whether or not there is any interest from the Canadian consumer is the question that remains.
MORE ABOUT CANADIAN INTERNATIONAL AUTO SHOW
Tickets (includes GST): Adults, $23; Children, $7; Family Pass, $45
Dates: Show runs until February 22, 2015.
Location: Metro Toronto Convention Centre, 255 Front Street West, Toronto, ON
February 18-21: 10:30 am-10 pm; February 22: 10:30 am-6 pm