Municipalities eager to use microcars for services

JIJI

An increasing number of municipalities are preparing to introduce microcars in their services for citizens and visitors.

The transport ministry is planning to promote the one- to two-seaters, smaller than 660cc minivehicles, by launching a system this month to allow cities to apply to use them on public streets.

Since November, the city of Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, has been testing a project whereby citizens and tourists can rent microcars to drive around Dogo Spa.

The city also leases electric cars and motor-assisted bicycles.

“But microcars are more popular because they are seen as a mascot and eye-catching,” an official at the municipal government’s policy division said.

Yokohama has road-tested microcars several times since 2011. The cars were made available not only to visitors but also to students on crime watches and to hospitals to help provide in-home medical services.

“Because of its small size, a microcar can meet a variety of local needs,” said Naoshi Nagura, the Yokohama test project’s chief.

Japanese automakers are turning their attention to microcars for their fuel efficiency.

According to transport ministry guidelines announced in November, microcars are defined as gasoline-powered vehicles with engine displacements of 125cc or less and electric vehicles with power output of 8 kw or less.

At present, a microcar can be driven on public roads in designated areas during certain times if the ministry approves the maker’s request after consulting with the specific municipality.

In the future, those cars may get the same legal status as other vehicles, ministry officials said.