Seeking the Potential of Electric Three-wheelers
Japan’s 16th Automobile Manufacturer
Taro Matsunami, Director and President, ElecTrike Japan Co.,Ltd
ABOUT THE COMPANY
ElecTrike Japan Co., Ltd. manufactures and sells electric three-wheelers, which are stable and economical vehicles.
The company’s main product is ElecTrike. ElecTrike is specialized for short-distance transportation uses to satisfy various needs that motorcycles and light four-wheeled vehicles cannot cover.
The company acquired automobile type approval from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism in June 2015, and took its first steps as an automobile manufacturer.
People in Japan are not familiar with electric three-wheelers. The company is working to make them better known while cultivating markets.
We interviewed Mr. Taro Matsunami, Director and President, about their product strengths, current issues, and future vision.
Commercialized Based on Awareness Gained in an Industry-University Collaboration Project
ElecTrike Japan was started by Mr. Matsunami's father, who began to develop an electric three-wheeler under an industry-university collaboration project with Tokai University in 2015. "My father belonged to an automobile club and was a rider of three-wheelers when he was in senior high school," Mr. Matsunami said. "He even participated in an all-Japan rally as a rallyist. He had a deep attachment to three-wheelers and automobiles." In the project, he created a prototype by combining a ready-made small electric vehicle and a three-wheeler. Since the prototype was more maneuverable than expected, he sensed its potential for commercialization. With further trial and error, the ElecTrike electric three-wheeler was born.
Safe and Economical Electric Three-Wheeler Specialized for Short-Distance Transportation
"Electric vehicles are optimal for running short distances," Mr. Matsunami explained. "Three-wheelers feature good energy efficiency because they have one tire less than four-wheeled vehicles. This feature makes three-wheelers suitable as electric vehicles. We thought we would be able to develop a product specialized for short-distance transportation by combining these two advantages." The greatest feature of ElecTrike is high safety. "People may have an image of three-wheelers being easy to tip over," Mr. Matsunami said. "We solved this concern by designing it to have a low center of gravity and individually controlling the motors of the right and left driving wheels." The driving battery also has original features. "ElecTrike has a highly safe Japanese-made lithium ion battery used by a major automobile manufacturer. The driving battery is expensive, but the vehicle price can be kept low because the battery capacity can be small for short-distance transportation," he noted, regarding the economical aspect of ElecTrike.
Clearing Various Hurdles to Become Japan’s First New Automobile Manufacturer in 19 Years
The company reached a turning point in 2015. They acquired automobile type approval from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and were acknowledged as Japan’s first new automobile manufacturer in 19 years. "Actually, we had tried to sell our ElecTrike product to a major company," Mr. Matsunami said. "They told us that their employees were precious to them, and they would not let them use ElecTrike without type approval. That is why we decided to obtain approval." As a matter of course, however, it is very difficult to obtain type approval. "For example, we had to prove that all parts of the vehicle comply with the applicable standards," he continued, describing how difficult it had been. "We also had to test the brakes and measure the speed of an actual vehicle in the presence of personnel from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. They checked our vehicle production equipment in detail. We were able to obtain approval after clearing all the conditions." In the end, they did not end up doing business with that major company because of cost issues, but news about their type registration drew media attention more than ever before.
Satisfying All Kinds of Needs with High Maneuverability and Large Load Capacity as Weapons
The cargo space of ElecTrike can be customized for the intended use, so it can satisfy various kinds of needs in any field. For example, a supermarket in Akabane, Tokyo adopted ElecTrike for deliveries to customers. There are many hills and narrow roads in their area, so the ElecTrike’s motorcycle-level maneuverability and turning performance are very helpful. A bookstore in Ogikubo, Tokyo uses ElecTrike in a unique way. They usually use the three-wheeler as a bookshelf in the store during business hours, but also as a mobile shop when they participate in an event. We asked Mr. Matsunami about recent major cases of customers making use of ElecTrike. "A major transportation company adopted ElecTrike because the small load capacities of motorbikes are not efficient for courier services. Light four-wheeled vehicles may lead to complaints about door opening and closing sounds by neighborhood residents, so they are thinking about adopting ElecTrike, because it has a large load capacity but no doors," Mr. Matsunami said with confidence.
Finding Partners in Japan and Abroad to Make their Electric Three-wheeler More Popular
Their customer base is gradually increasing, but there are many issues to solve to make ElecTrike popular. "In the first place, there is no three-wheeler market in Japan," Mr. Matsunami noted. "So, it is important to make people more aware of three-wheelers. We want to lower the price with mass production in the future. However, we cannot manufacture more than five units a month under our current production system, which is like manual work." He also said they should devise servicing and maintenance after sales. "ElecTrike does not need to pass a compulsory vehicle inspection because it is categorized as a light moped with a sidecar. This is an advantage for customers, but makes it difficult for garages to continuously make profits. Even in these circumstances we want to increase the number of garages cooperating with us." To solve issues about the production system and pricing, the company is looking for partners in countries like India and China where three-wheeler markets are already established. "If we import ElecTrike products manufactured at overseas factories into Japan," he said, "we can sell them at lower prices than light four-wheeled vehicles. Then we will be able to make ElecTrike more popular. We will continue to seek partners in Japan and abroad while showcasing our products through J-GoodTech." Mr. Matsunami told us about his vision for the future.
ElecTrike Japan Co., Ltd. is taking on the challenge of creating a new mobility market for electric three-wheelers.
Now the company is seeking partners to improve awareness in Japan and strengthen their production and sales system. They are using J-GoodTech as part of their strategy.
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