I-Road: Toyota debuts rear-steering, all-electric 3-wheeler

Car or motorcycle?
Car or motorcycle?

With the global population booming and more American millennials flocking to crowded cities, Toyota hopes it has found a vehicle for the future.

The company's i-Road is an all-electric, three-wheeled, rear-steering "personal mobility vehicle" that Toyota was showing off at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which concluded this weekend in Colorado.

"I-Road is small, it's easy to get around, it's super easy to park. It's an EV, so it's good for the environment. So it checks a lot of boxes for the city of the future," said Jason Schulz, business development manager for Toyota North America.

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From a driving perspective, i-Road stands out because it combines the rear-wheel steering with an ability to lean into turns. From the perspective of this CNBC reporter, the sensation is less like driving a car or riding a motorcycle than like piloting some sort of a Jet Ski on land. I-Road has a top speed of 35 miles per hour, but it's a lot more fun than a golf cart.

The electric i-Road is being piloted in Japan and France, but company hopes to introduce it more widely.
Toyota Motors

Toyota has real commercial aspirations for the vehicle. It's now being tested as part of car-sharing programs in Japan and Grenoble, France. In the last 30 days, the company has begun approaching operators of parking decks and parking lots about making room for the narrow, short vehicles at their facilities, which Toyota pitches as a way for parking companies to monetize previously unused space.

Schulz declined to speculate about when i-Road would be available in U.S. markets, but Toyota has begun conversations with the motor vehicles agencies in California and Texas.

From a regulatory standpoint, the company hopes the vehicle's all-electric status and other nonmotorcycle traits can help it avoid helmet requirements.