Between Car and Scooter: The Adorable Daihatsu Pico

Daihatsu Pico Tokyo Motor Show 2011Daihatsu Motors brought three prototypes to the Tokyo Motor Show this week (which Gas2 readers may remember seeing briefly). They’re pretty determined to make a positive impression with the Pico – the little electric two-seater – which is one of several microcars at the show.

The Pico, fairly slow and with a short operating range, is a very light and super tiny EV that falls somewhere between motorized scooters and light motor vehicles (commonly called kei cars) in Japan’s classification system. At first glance, it seems somewhat odd, but quite a bit of thought went into its development. Daihatsu’s managing director, Koichi Ina, explains:

“The Pico is smaller and narrower than the usual kei car; it’s a very small vehicle meant for everyday tasks. We looked at Japan’s aging society and the rising popularity of home delivery businesses when developing the Pico, as well as the changing business environment. We feel that a very small vehicle has quite a lot of appeal.”

Why Make a Slow, Tiny, Short-Range EV?

Daihatsu’s corporate executive vice president Naoto Kitagawa went into a little more detail regarding why Daihatsu would make an EV in the first place; they’re quite well known for their kei cars, which are fuel efficient in addition to being small enough to comfortably navigate the narrowest of roads – so why branch out? According to Response’s interview;

“We had to consider the increasing number of elderly citizens in rural neighborhoods. The public transportation network in such areas is shrinking, and the number of gas stations is dwindling also. We felt that an EV was the natural choice when looking at these facts.”

If the target market is people living in small rural towns with low speed limits, something like the Pico might do well. Kitagawa then went on to speak briefly about how a small electric two-seater could be useful and convenient in other ways:

“If, for example, a mother takes her child to kindergarten, riding a bicycle can be very dangerous. On the subject of home deliveries, if the customer lives in an area with a high number of residences, a bike or a kei truck can be very loud – but an EV is silent. These are just a few of the reasons a small EV is a good choice.”

I can speak from personal experience about the dangers of riding a bicycle through medium-to-small towns in Japan – for a number of reasons, it’s not an situation in which I would want to place a kindergarten-aged kid. But would a tiny EV be that much safer?

How Classification Rules Might Kill the Pico

The downside to the Pico, as mentioned above, is that it’s more than a scooter, but less than a kei car in a number of respects. The problem is that under Japanese law, no such vehicle classification exists. The Pico must then conform to the safety standards and criteria of the larger and heavier kei car. According to Kitagawa, this will raise the vehicle’s sticker price considerably.

Daihatsu is trying to get a new vehicle classification established, also according to Kitagawa. Good luck with that – there’s undoubtedly a lot of bureaucratic red tape to untangle.

Source: | Image: Daihatsu.

Charis Michelsen

spent 7 years living in Germany and Japan, studying both languages extensively, doing translation and education with companies like Bosch, Nissan, Fuji Heavy, and others. Charis has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. She also believes that Janeway was the best Star Trek Captain.