Toyota’s Future Is Niche EVs And Urban Mobility

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

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Toyota knows that, like all of its automotive competitors, it must go electric in order to be competitive in the future. Unlike other more cavalier brands, Toyota is not wholly optimistic about the profitability of the electrified future. Despite its hesitations about the financial outlook of electric mobility, it is diving head first into not only electric cars, but also rideable battery electric vehicles (BEV).

  • Toyota will begin to sell its new mobility BEVs next year, starting with its i-WALK ridable scooter.
  • It will also begin to offer mini-sized cars designed for new drivers and the elderly alike.
  • It will follow those with wheelchair-linked BEVs created to transport manually driven wheelchairs.
  • In order to remain profitable, Toyota intends to rethink its entire business model, from sales to disposal of its vehicles.

The Japanese auto giant took to the stage last week to lay out its revised outlook on the future of electrification and mobility. At that conference, Toyota’s Executive Vice President Shigeki Terashi laid out the details of both the future product plans but also the brand business model shift.

Terashi was confident in the presentation. However, he marked it with a touch of reality, saying, “Unless we work on this at a very accelerated manner, we will not be able to ensure our future survival.”

Earlier this week, we discussed the overarching electrification plan for future Toyota and Lexus’ cars and crossovers. Now, however, we turn to the smaller vehicles — and the portion of Toyota’s business plan that it hopes will help keep it profitable as transportation shifts from car sales to a mobility model.

Toyota Concept-i RIDE and i-ROAD. | Photo: Toyota


Some of the vehicles Toyota showed might seem familiar to some keen observers. They were originally unveiled as concepts in 2017: the Concept-i RIDE and the three-wheeled i-ROAD.

i-RIDE is not going directly into production. Rather the mini BEV is being modified and split into two potential production vehicles. The white one pictured here is designed for both young people who are newly licensed and also for the elderly.

The idea behind this two-seater BEV, capable of 62 miles of range and a top speed of just 37 miles per hour is that both new drivers and the elderly don’t need to travel terribly far; they might just need a daily mobility solution to travel a short distance to the store. That’s who this yet-unnamed mobility device is going to cater to when it goes into production in 2020.

Toyota business concept BEV. | Photo: Toyota


On the other hand, the black more futuristic offshoot of the i-RIDE is one that is being considered for corporations and municipalities who need to visit clients or move employees around in an eco-friendly way. Toyota didn’t give any specs about the little runabout. We can safely assume it offers similar — if not slightly superior — range to the teens-and-geriatrics BEV.

The motorcycle-sized i-ROAD trike, the body of which literally leans into turns, made a splash when it was revealed two years ago. Many wondered what a fanciful little thing could be useful for. Toyota sees it as a last-mile mobility solution for one or two riders. Not only is it incredibly small, again just the size of a motorcycle, it’s unlikely to tip over. What’s more, it can hit speeds of around 37 mph and has a range of 31 miles.

Toyota i-WALK and its wheelchair-liked BEV. | Photo: Toyota


Diving even deeper into its niche new BEV business model, which will span from sales to eventual disposal of the devices, Toyota will be producing some BEVs that will aid in walking.

The first is the gizmo you see above on the left. It’s called i-WALK and it — like the i-ROAD — was originally shown in 2017. However, since then, it’s been undergoing public testing. It’s been used at Toyota’s Mega Web facility by employees to get around on and also for security personnel at a couple of Japan’s international airports. The production i-WALK is expected to go on sale to the public in 2020.

Following i-WALK to market in 2021 are two more mobility BEVs. However, these are designed for individuals who have difficulty walking and standing. The one pictured above is a wheelchair-assist BEV that can be used in conjunction with traditional push models — at tourism spots, for example. It features a swappable battery that returns 12.5 miles of range. Plus, it can be recharged in just 2.5 hours.

The latter resembles a more traditional mobility scooter. Toyota envisions this being used by folks who aren’t quite strong enough to carry their luggage through a long international airport. Or, simply, those who have a hard time walking. It’s also not yet named. However, Toyota did divulge it can go six miles per charge and is rechargeable in just two hours. Like the wheelchair-linked unit, it, too, will go on sale in 2021.

Toyota seated mobility lifestyle BEV. | Photo: Toyota


With this and the previous report about Toyota’s cars, the Japanese brand demonstrates it has a much more broad grasp of how it foresees its future business working. It knows it simply can’t make cars, sell them to dealers, and rake in the cash anymore. It’s going to have to be a lot more hands-on and insert itself into more steps of the vehicle lifecycle.

Toyota will need to be prepared to sell, resell, service, reuse components, recycle and eventually dispose of its future products. And that’s a lot more complex than the current model — while potentially returning fewer profits along the way. No wonder execs are dispirited about the mobility future.

At the same time that Toyota brass are crying in their beers, you should be more excited. Toyota is listening to customers and adjusting its portfolio to match what we want — not the other way around. It has spoken to new drivers, the elderly and everyone in between and will build mobility solutions with us in mind. They’re going to be much more niche and specific than the Toyota vehicle line is now. So that means you won’t have to compromise or put a Corolla in your driveway just so you can drive to the store twice a week.

At the same time your lifestyle is more closely reflected by your mobility choices, you’re going to be moving around in safer, more connected, and — perhaps most importantly — more environmentally friendly vehicles. So, yes, the mobility market looks pretty darn shaky for a lot of the major players in the space now. But it looks pretty darn bright for us consumers and commuters.

About the Author

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

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