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Japan’s First New-Vehicle Niche in 50 Years Imitates Cart: Cars

It’s smaller than a golf cart, runs on electricity and will probably soon be road-legal. The ultracompact is set to be Japan’s first new vehicle niche in 50 years and an opportunity for the likes of Yoshiro Sugimoto.

Town EV, Sugimoto’s startup, plans to have the 800,000 yen ($10,000) ZEVe ultracompact on the market in Japan next year.
Enlarge image Mini Golf-Cart-Size Autos Set to Be Road-Legal in Japan

The ZEVe electric single-seater vehicle. Source: Town EV Corp. via Bloomberg

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance,” said Sugimoto, 62, a former Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) veteran of 16 years who became fascinated by ultracompacts and pooled 20 million yen of his own and colleagues’ cash for the quest to build the smallest road- legal cars.

The country’s largest automakers are keeping an eye on Sugimoto and on the generation of ultracompact entrepreneurs. The carmakers and startups, including Town EV, lobbied the government to approve the ultracompact category, and the transport ministry has said it intends to take that step as early as next month.

Ultracompact demand will be “at least 70,000 units a year” after the rules are changed to allow them on the road, said Takeshi Matsunaga, who is in charge of electric car projects at Toyota Auto Body Co., a division of the automaker. The company is waiting for approval of the new rules before announcing its plans for ultracompacts, Matsunaga said.


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