Launched in 2017, the indigo car is the realisation of a government project to put a taxi on Japan’s roads that could carry wheelchair users, luggage-laden travellers and foreign visitors of all sizes.
It includes a wheelchair ramp, heated seats, smartphone chargers, an array of anti-collision sensors and even virus-killing air conditioning. But the liquefied petroleum gas-hybrid taxi doesn’t come cheap, selling for 3.5 million yen (US$31,786.40) – almost a third more than the Crown model it replaces.
“We wanted to build something that tried to please as many people as possible,” Hiroshi Kayukawa, the chief engineer who oversaw Japan Taxi’s development, told Reuters at Toyota’s headquarters in Toyota City.
The effort has not been without some wrong turns. Many drivers complained that the Japan Taxi wheelchair ramp was awkward and took too long to deploy. Operators worry about costs after transport ministry subsidies expire.
And the taxi’s complex design – conceived by a Transport Ministry committee with representatives from carmakers, taxi companies and advocates for the disabled – has scuttled at least one attempt to export it.
“I would give it 70 out of 100,” said Hiroaki Kaneko, a 20-year veteran driver for Hinomaru Kotsu, one of Tokyo’s leading taxi companies. “As a universal taxi I would give it 50.”
Although it wasn’t built with the 2020 games in mind, Toyota rolls it off the line with Olympics and Paralympic logos plastered on each side.
The carmaker hopes that Olympic sheen will help it replace a third of Tokyo’s 30,000 taxis before the Games. The event, which starts in July 2020, is expected to cost more than twice the initial estimate of 734 billion yen (US$6.67bil).
“We thought the Olympics would be a good way to increase the appeal of the car. We want to get it adopted as quickly as possible,” Kayukawa said.
A rush of pre-Olympic orders for the cab is helping Toyota generate sales for what the company says is a money-losing project.
Only 2,000 Japan Taxis are built each month, far below the number Toyota would normally consider viable, and a small fraction of the 28,000 cars the company produces every day globally.
A spokesman said the company’s rationale for the project was not profit, but “to contribute to the creation of a rich society by supporting the movement of many people with taxis.”
Government subsidies are giving taxi firms incentives to buy the vehicles.