Japan is king of the kei cars, or small-format vehicles designed mostly for urban use. But local startup KG Motors is taking that miniaturization to a whole new level with its one-seater electric car.
Inspired by North American startups, KG Motors CEO Kusunoki Kazunari explained that he wanted to bring the same kind of automotive entrepreneurial spirit to Japan, a company dominated by a few large automakers.
“There are few mobility startups like ours in Japan,” he described to NHK. “But in the United States and China, for example, startups are constantly being launched. That makes me think we can do it too.”
And by the looks of it, KG Motors has a compelling offering. Its first electric car may be small, but it’s certainly a head-turner.
Designed for city use, it reaches a top speed of 60 km/h (37 mph) and features just a single seat in a center drive format.
The vehicle features a mixture of tech-forward and tech-forgotten. For example, air-conditioning keeps the driver comfortable, but the windows are manually operated. Fortunately, the center-drive design means both the driver’s side window and the driver’s side window are within easy reach.
The 5,000W motor puts out just under seven horsepower with the pedal pressed firmly to the plastic, which might not sound like much.
Still, the lower power level also helps the battery last for a relatively impressive 100 km (62 miles) of range on a single charge. Recharging takes around 5 hours from a home-level 100VAC outlet, meaning most people will likely charge overnight.
What’s the point of a one-seater car?
When designing the vehicle, Kazunari looked to government surveys on car use. The results showed that about 70% of car owners in Japan say they drive alone on weekdays. On weekends, the figure was closer to 50%.
That meant for most trips, a multi-seat car was more than most drivers needed. And while a one-seater might not entirely replace the need for a larger car, families could potentially replace a second full-size car with a small one-seater like this. Just as long as they don’t need to drop the kids off at school.
And if the small size doesn’t win drivers over, then the price just might. The company is targeting a price tag of 1 million yen, which converts to just over US $6,600.
Part of KG Motors’ ability to keep the cost down comes from the efficient production design, including symmetrical components that reduce the number of molds and tooling. It’s a similar concept to the Citroën Ami, which uses the same front and rear body panels as well as glass components to cut down on costs.
The company is planning to conduct extensive test drives to hone in the design next year, followed by production commencing in 2025.
Japan’s road laws allow these small, efficient vehicles to be operated legally. In North America, LSV laws have also carved out a small niche for pint-sized vehicles. However, there are very few options on the market that are truly street-legal due to the remaining regulatory hurdles that tend to block smaller startups from entering the market.
Could you see yourself driving around a one-seater electric car? I know I would, but I also have a reputation to keep up. Let’s hear your thoughts in the comment section below.
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