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Toyota i-Real

Published: 24 October 2007

It looks like an electric wheelchair… is Toyota for real with this?

Toyota is serious. Deadly serious. As traffic gets worse, so personal mobility vehicles like the i-Real start to make sense. The three-wheel i-Real is Toyota’s new take on single-seat urban commuting – call it a Segway with a seat, or a motorised trike – and it’s the follow-up from Toyota’s previous electric chairs (the PM, i-unit and i-swing).

Is it meant for the road or the footpath?

Either. Top speed, of just under 20mph, means it is okay in the city streets – it’ll cruise at fast bicycle speed – but it is also designed to work among pedestrians. The wheelbase is variable. At low speed, the wheelbase shortens (above), raising the height of the seat. You will be driving along, more or less, at pedestrian eyesight height. And when it’s in short wheelbase mode, the i-Real will be very compact, so it won’t take up too much space. Out on the road, nearing the max (these things, of course, are relative), the wheelbase stretches improving stability. You’ll sit a lot nearer the road too, so the centre of gravity also improves. Safety is enhanced by a collision avoidance system that sounds alarms when you near other people or objects. An alarm sounds and the ‘car’ vibrates if you’re about to hit something. On the pavement, lights and various low-pitched warning sounds (one sounds like a bird chirping) advise the foot brigade to give you a bit of room.

So what’s the i-Real powered by and how do you drive it?

It has twin electric engines, one in each front wheel. The battery is lithium ion, like in your laptop or mobile phone. Driving is simple. A couple of levers near your hands allow you to accelerate or brake. To hit reverse, push a button. You also use the levers to steer – push left for left, right for right. Very simple. It steers by the rear wheel. This picture shows it in out-of-town, long-wheelbase mode.

And are they going to produce the i-Real?

Toyota seems serious. It will be particularly useful for disabled people but also has a future on wide Japanese city pavements now used habitually (and legally) by cyclists. Don’t forget this is Toyota’s fourth iteration of its electric chair. And there is surely some significance in the name ‘Real’.

By Gavin Green

Contributor-in-chief, former editor, anti-weight campaigner, voice of experience