What should an all-electric mobility vehicle for urban areas look like in the year 2030? It’s the question many manufacturers are posing at a time where autonomy and electrification are two of the most talked about subjects in the automotive industry. Toyota’s proposal is in the form i-TRIL concept, which was unveiled at the 2017 Geneva motor show.
Designed at the Japanese automaker’s ED2 advanced design outpost in southern France, the brief was to create a three-person vehicle that could be seen as a viable alternative to conventional A and B segment city cars, small hatchbacks and motorcycles. While it looks to fill the brief, the one-plus-two seat design is perhaps a little too ‘forward looking’ for a suburban housewife to identify with, but it would be suitable for people who still want to have fun when driving, even at slower speeds.
Measuring in at 3000mm long and 1510mm high – with a 1200mm front and 600mm rear track – the semi-autonomous rear-wheel-drive concept weighs a scant 600kg and is powered by an electric motor housed above the separate rear axle unit. Because of these strange proportions, the i-TRIL concept looks like an insect – not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The i-TRIL concept’s front wheels and fenders are separate from the main bodyshell, with the cabin rendered as a dark, cocoon-like central space with no belt line or door handles. It is covered in a wrap, which seamlessly changes from the body color (also used for the front wheel arches) to a transparent glazing for the cockpit, while emphasizing the powerful sense of forward motion generated by car’s silhouette.
The notion of fun to drive is at the i-TRIL concept’s core. As such, it employs ‘Active Lean’ technology first seen on the Toyota i-Road. The system uses a lean actuator and gearing mounted above the rear axle, which is 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. Pretty cool.
Access to the cabin is provided via two large butterfly-opening doors, designed so they can be opened in a narrow parking space. They are hinged on sloping front pillars to allow for easy access for passengers, while the driver seat swivels 20 degrees to further ease ingress and egress.
The rear of the cabin is wider than the front. The driver sits at the center, ahead of the two-passenger rear bench seat, which is covered in ribbed, textured fabric that radiates outwards to emphasize the cabin’s width.
A lot of attention has been paid to details, such as the contrasting, bright colorways within the cabin, which were designed specifically to avoid an overtly automotive feel. The tread pattern on the 19-inch front, 20-inch rear Goodyear tires has also been cut to match the interior design, which is swathed in Alcantara-like trim, while the rear bench seat upholstery and wooden floor finish are all made from recycled materials.
Once inside, the driver operates the vehicle via left and right-hand control nodes, which work like computer mice or games controllers. The nodes extend towards the driver’s hands beneath the stretch fabric that covers the manual driving module.
Toyota designers’ minimalist approach is also seen in the interface. There are no controls or switchgear, no driver’s binnacle, and no pedals. In manual driving mode, a simple head-up display conveys information to the driver who communicates with the vehicle’s artificial intelligence to control the multimedia and infotainment systems via voice control, the holy grail of in-car interfaces but one that has yet to be perfected.
The Toyota i-TRIL concept is a breath of fresh air in an industry that is busy building boxes to cater to the needs of future mobility. It proposes a fresh look at the paradigm through a vehicle that can not only handle medial tasks for busy families in suburban towns, but one that the user can also have a bit of fun in when they want to.