Japan's transport ministry plans to allow ultracompact cars to run on public roads in some local areas as early as autumn to encourage the spread of such vehicles, according to sources.
The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry will relax the section of the Road Transport Vehicle Law that regulates safety standards and other rules on the use of vehicles, and apply it to local governments that want to use ultracompact cars as transport for residents and tourists in their areas.
The cars have been driven strictly on an experimental basis in limited areas, but the expected regulatory easing is likely to spark proliferation of the vehicles nationwide.
The ministry will define the standards and specifications for ultracompact cars, including running capacity and safety performance, and publicize them as early as autumn to allow local governments to take the lead in using the cars.
Local governments that want to introduce them in their jurisdictions will be required to apply at their respective transport bureaus, which will then relax the regulations, provided that safety is ensured by limiting the area in which the cars can be used, and other factors.
According to the ministry, the size and seating capacity of ultracompact cars will be less than that of minicars but greater than that of category-1 motorized vehicles of 50cc displacement or less.
The ministry's move is believed to have been driven by growing demand, especially among elderly citizens, for cars designed for one or two people that are smaller than minicars.
Currently, category-1 motorized vehicles are meant only for the driver. Because of the cap on displacement, it is considered difficult to develop a small car powerful enough to accommodate two people.
It also is difficult to make ultracompact cars based on the standards of minicars because of strict safety standards, including structural requirements, to absorb impact during a collision.
The ministry is believed to have decided to allow the use of ultracompact cars on public roads with certain restrictions, despite their not satisfying minicar-level safety performance.
As a result of the amended legislation, carmakers can look forward to mass production of the cars in anticipation of their sale, since local governments are expected to use them on a long-term basis.