Yeonggwang County in South Jeolla Province, one of the largest nuclear power plant sites in Korea, was the first county in Korea to recognize the need for personal electric vehicles as a way to offer safe and comfortable mobility for the elderly, who make up around 25 percent of the county’s total population.
The county also reports frequent accidents involving tractors that are used by many elderly for not just farming, but also for short commutes. In 2011, 4 out of 10 car accidents involved agricultural vehicles, according to the National Emergency Management Agency.
The aging population led the county office to focus on single- or two-seater compact electric personal mobility vehicles as an alternative to four-wheel gasoline vehicles, which are more challenging and riskier to drive for older people.
“Yeonggwang County plans to work with manufacturers of electric vehicles and the central government to make the electric personal mobility vehicles available for the elderly and tourists to our mudflats,” said Shin Gwang-geun, director of the county office’s investment promotion division in charge of the new electric personal mobility vehicle project, in a phone interview with The Korea Herald.
“In the latter half of 2014, you will see people driving the small electric vehicles in our region,” said Shin.
The compact electric personal mobility vehicle is emerging as an alternative to the traditional four-wheeled gasoline-powered automobiles that are increasingly considered a burden when moving around in heavily congested cities or going on short daily errands. It is also the latest innovation in the automobile industry as a form of sustainable transport amid the gradual shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
“I can’t say it’s going to replace the gasoline-powered cars, but it is going to be used where alternative transportation methods are needed,” said Suh In-soo, a professor at the Cho Cheon-sik Graduate School of Green Transportation at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, who led the team that unveiled a foldable compact electric vehicle last week.
“We see demand for compact electric mobility vehicles in cities. There are not enough spaces to park; it’s not efficient anymore to move around the city in big cars because of traffic. The development of mini electric personal mobility vehicles can change the conventional moving patterns in a city,” said Suh in a phone interview with The Korea Herald.
Suh’s team’s creation, Armadillo-T, is touted as Korea’s first foldable electric vehicle, using a 13.6-kilowatt-hour battery and four independent in-wheel motors that enable it to reach a top speed of 60 kilometers per hour and travel approximately 100 kilometers on a single charge.
|Armadillo-T (above), a compact electric vehicle developed by a KAIST team led by professor Suh In-soo, measures 2.8 meters in length. When parked, the rear section slides forward (bottom), folding the doors up vertically, which shortens the length to 1.65 meters and saves parking space. (KIAST)|
Suh says he would like to see the concept car be driven out on the streets and serve the daily mobility needs of people.
“It can be an efficient vehicle especially in large convention halls, airports and resort towns,” said Suh.
Major motor companies have been showcasing compact electric personal mobility vehicles as concept cars at international motor shows.
Toyota debuted the i-ROAD at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show that offers safe, helmet-free driving for a distance of up to 50 kilometers on a single charge.
The Japanese automobile company also ran a trial of its Segway-life Winglet in July this year. First introduced in 2008, the Winglet is a personal transport robot that one can ride while standing. Targeted at office workers for short journeys such as moving from one office building to another, it is capable of cruising 10 kilometers on a single charge and reaches a top speed of 10 kilometers per hour.
Renault’s Twizy is a reality in the world of compact electric vehicles. It hit the streets of several European countries March 2012, four years after it was unveiled as a concept car at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show. The four-wheeled vehicle can accelerate up to 45 kilometers per hour and offers multiple choices of colors and interior designs.
However, careful planning is needed before they can be seen on the streets of Seoul.
“First, the vehicle needs to be approved by law as a means of transportation. It doesn’t fit in to the category of automobiles in Korea yet,” said Shin.
The European Union and Japan are leading in terms of commercializing micro electric vehicles by establishing appropriate measures and infrastructure.
In member countries of the European Union, safety measures concerning micro mobility vehicles and approval of the compact electric vehicle as an automobile allow electric vehicles such as Twizy to be driven on the streets of Europe.
Japan conducted test runs for two to three years before it could be driven by people on the streets.
In Korea, such measures have yet to be considered.
“Right now, we don’t see many single- or two-person compact electric vehicles mass-produced by Korean companies. We don’t have the related infrastructure, so we are not considering any measures for it,” said an official in charge of electric-vehicle development at the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, who wished to remain anonymous.
Experts say Korea needs planning and support from the government as some changes in existing transportation system are required and infrastructure such as charging stations and parking spaces need to be built.
“It takes collaborative efforts of the government, the industry and citizens to slowly change our transportation method to a sustainable one,” said Lee Keun, dean of the International Design School for Advanced Studies at Hongik University.
By Lee Woo-young (email@example.com