Are super-compact EVs the ride of the future?

Japanese automakers continue to experiment with super-small one- or two-seat electric vehicles. But does anyone want to ride these carts?

Honda MC-beta
Honda's MC-beta is a super-compact EV designed for short-distance commutes. Honda

TOKYO -- How would you fancy riding around in something that can go 30 miles on a charge and costs around $1?

Super-compact electric vehicles have been on roads in Japan for a while, and more models are coming out as major automakers experiment with architecture and features.

Some look like golf carts or even the gas-powered tricycle mopeds commonly used for pizza and other deliveries in densely populated Japanese cities.

Single-seater Coms EVs made by Toyota Auto Body sell for around $7,400 in Japan and are used by farmers, cable TV technicians, milk delivery workers, and even Buddhist monks visiting parishioners.

Subsidized by the government, Coms have a top speed of 37.5 mph, and a range of about 31 miles on a full charge. They require a regular driver's license to operate.

They come in various versions and with different options, some with a small deck on the back for carrying goods, or a covered hatch, or canvas doors.

Toyota Auto Body is exhibiting a roomier version of Coms at the 2013 Toyota Motor Show this week, a two-seater model that could be used by a parent picking up a child from school.

Honda showed off its new MC-beta, billed as a short-distance commuter EV. About 8 feet long, it has a lightweight pipe-frame body inspired by motorcycle design.

The update of Honda's Micro Commuter Concept from 2011 has a top speed of about 43 mph, and a range of some 50 miles. Its lithium ion battery can be charged in less than three hours at 200 V or less than seven hours at 100 V, according to Honda.

When I test-drove the MC-beta in the Tokyo Motor Show's outdoor Smart Mobility City zone, I was surprised by its relatively powerful acceleration. It had a pleasant electric hum as I zipped around the Tokyo Big Sight roof overlooking Tokyo Bay.

Honda plans to test the MC-beta in Japan, but hasn't said if or when it will hit the market.

Other carmakers like Nissan are testing or renting out these souped-up golf carts in pilot projects. For instance, about 3,000 people have signed up for one such effort that recently began in the city of Yokohama.

Called Choimobi, the service uses 50 Nissan New Mobility Concept EVs that cost about 20 cents a minute to rent.

Would you ride one of these? Could they work where you live? Check out more images of super-compact EVs and similar rides in our gallery above. And for still more sights from the Tokyo Motor Show, see the below gallery.

 

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