The Toyota i-Road is certainly a wild-looking electric car. As unveiled at the current Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland, the three-wheeler recalls the cute European bubble cars of the 1950s (a huge collection of which was just auctioned off). But the i-Road is also reminiscent of another, much more modern EV, the two-wheeled Lit Motors C-1.
Both are personal mobility vehicles with tandem seating, though the C-1 (which is a kind of enclosed motorcycle) is more a two-seater in concept. They look a lot alike, and both use gyroscopes for balance—the C-1 couldn’t stay up without them. In the i-Road, it’s called “Active Lean” technology, and it’s to help you get around a corner.
“An ECU calculates the required lean based on steering angle, gyro-sensor and vehicle speed information,” says Toyota. “And the system automatically moves the wheels up and down in opposite directions, applying lean angle to counteract the centrifugal force of cornering.” The system also keeps the body level in rough terrain.
Reached in Germany, where he’s trying to scare up investors ($1.4 million has been raised so far), CEO Danny Kim of Lit (that's him with the C-1 above) was intrigued by the i-Road’s resemblance to his creation. He’s patented the double-gyroscopic system (powered by regenerative braking) in the C-1, so he’s got some interest in knowing if Toyota’s system is similar. “I see a similar value proposition,” he said.
The C-1 is a little road rocket as befits its motorcycle origins, capable of 100 mph, zero to 60 in six seconds, and 200 miles on a charge (four to six hours) of its lithium-ion batteries. Here's a close-up on video:
Kim is starting small, targeting a run of 1,000 C-1s next year at an intro price of $24,000 (it’s supposed to go down later), and enthuses that he has more than half of the production pre-sold. Kim also notes that he’s been talking with eight automakers about licensing his technology or entering into joint ventures.
The i-Road is purely a concept car, and as such it resembles the also-gyroscopically-balanced General Motors ENVI that the automaker sees as the city car of the future—possibly driving itself. The ENVI’s gyroscopes are courtesy of Segway, which started this whole balancing business with its much-hyped “human transporter” back in 2001. Kim says the ENVI and C-1 use totally different balancing systems. We’ll see how this all shakes out.
And this just in….
In other electric vehicle news, Cleveland-based Amp Electric Vehicles is moving into the big leagues and becoming an automaker, or truck maker if you prefer. The company, which has specialized in converting GM, Jeep and Mercedes SUVs to electric in relatively small volumes, is ramping up with an agreement to buy the Workhorse step-van brand from Navistar International, which is getting out of the business.
The Workhorse van (below) will be familiar to anyone who’s seen a UPS delivery truck or equivalent—indeed, UPS is a major customer.
“Little Amp is becoming a full OEM overnight,” Amp CEO Steve Burns told me. “We have a chance here to become the alternative-energy trucking company, helping reinvent the delivery truck.” In the 250,000-square-foot Indiana factory that’s part of the deal, Amp will build battery, hybrid and conventional gasoline versions of the 20,000-pound, 1,000-cubic-foot truck. Even natural gas versions are possible. Workhorse has 440 dealers, and they’re coming along for the ride, too.
The van has 100-mile “real world” range, which works fine for trucks on a fixed route. There’s not a lot of big surprises in the delivery business. Amp is taking a big step here, and now it just needs orders for the 4,000 trucks a year it’s targeting initially.