Toyota rocked the automotive world a few hours ago with full details of a new form of transport it will exhibit at the Geneva Motor Show which begins tomorrow. Toyota's i-ROAD is a fully-enclosed, two-seater, three-wheeled, fully-electric, Personal Mobility Vehicle (PMV).

The i-ROAD incorporates what Toyota is calling Toyota 'Active Lean' technology, which "automatically balances the vehicle when cornering or traveling over stepped surfaces" according to the press statement.

The 850mm width of the i-ROAD is not much greater than a conventional two-wheeler. (Piaggio's MP3 three wheeler is 760 mm wide), so it is reasonable to assume the i-ROAD as easy to maneuver as a scooter or motorcycle through urban traffic, meaning that Toyota, the world's largest automotive manufacturer, looks set to create a competitor to the motorcycle, but with greater comfort, stability and safety.

Watch the press conference where the i-ROAD was introduced and you'll see why it is likely to become a serious mass market alternative to the motorcycle - two wheels without the cold, rain, discomfort and risk - motorcycling convenience in urban areas for the non-enthusiast.

The i-ROAD's electric powertrain is only good for a range of 30 miles, but can be recharged from a conventional power supply in just three hours.

Seating two in tandem and under cover, i-ROAD is an electric vehicle with a range of up to 30 miles (50km) on a single charge. Using 'Active Lean' technology, it is safe, intuitive and enjoyable to drive, with no need for driver or passenger to wear a helmet.

In many ways, the iROAD looks like a further development of a series of three-wheeled prototypes which has been evolving for almost a decade, first as the i-SWING in 2005 (above), then as the i-UNIT in 2006, then the i-REAL which I first drove at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show and then as a subsequent development which the company again allowed me to drive at the 2009 Tokyo Motor Show.

Following the showing of the Nissan Landglider at the 2009 Tokyo Motor Show, Gizmag published an extensive article and video forecasting a future of narrow track vehicles on public roads. The i-ROAD is definitely cast in the same mold as the Nissan Landglider (below).

Toyota's official statement on the i-ROAD makes it clear that the company foresees a future of mixed mode transport on public roads: "Toyota is paving the way for several types of eco car to co-exist in the future, by adapting its Hybrid Synergy Drive technology for use in plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), electric vehicles (EVs) and fuel cell vehicles (FCVs). While hybrids, plug-in hybrids and FCVs are ideal for mainstream use over medium to long distances, Toyota believes in the feasibility of EVs to serve as a main mode of transport for short urban journeys, and has 10 years' experience in the research and development of PMVs."

"People using this kind of vehicle want something that is more comfortable, offers better weather protection and is safer than a two-wheeler such as a scooter or motorcycle, but has similar benefits of low running costs, easy parking and around-town maneuverability."

The i-ROAD is indeed not much larger than a motorcycle with a length of 2,350mm, a height of 1,445mm and with a wheelbase of 1,700mm. It's most significant dimension, though, is its width: at only 850mm, it is not much wider than a conventional two-wheeler. Not only does this make for easy maneuvering through congested traffic, it also means that four i-ROADS will fit in a single parking bay.

The zero-emissions, all-electric powertrain uses a lithium-ion battery to power two 2kW motors mounted in the front wheels.

Toyota's new and entirely intuitive Active Lean technology is the key to i-ROAD's high levels of stability, safety, comfort and fun-to-drive character. The system uses a lean actuator and gearing mounted above the front suspension member, linked via a yoke to the left and right front wheels. An ECU calculates the required degree of lean based on steering angle, gyro-sensor and vehicle speed information, with the system automatically moving the wheels up and down in opposite directions, applying lean angle to counteract the centrifugal force of cornering.

The system also operates when the PMV is being driven in a straight line over stepped surfaces, the actuator automatically compensating for changes in the road to keep the body level. The minimum turning circle is just three meters.

No special skills are needed to pilot i-ROAD; the Active Lean system offers a unique driving experience with the enjoyment of riding a two-wheeler, but with no need for the driver to stabilize the vehicle when maneuvering at low speed, or when stationary.

As the driver doesn't have to put his or her feet on the road surface at any time, i-ROAD can be fitted with a safer, weatherproof, closed body and so can be driven without wearing a helmet. This design also allows for a more car-like environment on board, with the potential for features such as lighting, heating, audio and Bluetooth to be provided.

Toyota envisages its i-ROAD concept has the potential to play a significant role in reducing urban traffic congestion and air pollution. Commuters can use public transport or conventional private vehicles to travel to urban perimeter transportation hubs where they will transfer to the Toyota i-ROAD to complete their journeys into the city center.

The new Toyota PMV's compact size, maneuverability, easy parking, rapid charging and choice of an open or closed cabin make it an ideal urban vehicle, designed to reduce congestion and CO2, NOx and particulate emissions without compromising individual freedom of mobility.

Watch the i-Road being introduced during Toyota's press conference at the 83rd Geneva International Motor Show in the video below. The second video is a brief Toyota promo for the iRoad.

View gallery - 47 images