Hideo Tsurumaki watched the large tsunami waves crash onto Japan’s northeast coast on March 11, 2011, sweeping away automobiles full of individuals attempting to flee.
Because the automobiles sank slowly into the ocean, Tsurumaki thought of his mom, who lives by the ocean in one other earthquake-prone a part of the nation. She has problem strolling, like a lot of those that tried to flee by automotive that day. And he thought that if the automobiles had been capable of float, fewer individuals would have perished.
Two years later, the previous worker of a unit of Toyota Motor Corp. began to construct a small, watertight electrical car that may float in floods, and even cruise at low speeds. His startup has some notable backers, a functioning prototype, and plans to supply 10,000 automobiles a yr from late this yr at a manufacturing unit that it is renting close to Bangkok in Thailand. By 2020, Tsurumaki hopes to take the corporate public.
“I intend to place one outdoors our home,” Tsurumaki, 55, mentioned of the automobiles. “Many others will in all probability suppose the identical.”
Autos that may journey on land or water have been round since no less than the early 19th century, utilized by everybody from tour operators to armies. Whereas Tsurumaki’s invention might have been impressed by the tsunami, it falls in need of a design wanted to tackle or survive the ferocity of the tidal waves or the may of robust flood currents. At finest, he envisions it as a small electrical car – a second automotive for prosperous households for brief journeys across the neighborhood.
Most prospects will solely use the floating capabilities in emergencies, in all probability solely as soon as of their lifetimes, he says.
Tsurumaki, a motorbike-racing fanatic who solely gave up on turning into an expert racer because of damage, left his submit as lead engineer for an ultra-compact one-seater electrical car at Toyota Auto Physique Co. in 2012. He based Fomm Corp. with an preliminary capital of 200,000 yen ($1,804), and hand-built the primary prototype whereas working from a single-room dormitory.
Hideo Tsurumaki began to construct a watertight electrical car that may float in floods.
Tsurumaki labored for 3 years with College of Tokyo researchers on methods to drive the automotive in water with all tires submerged, finally deciding to make use of turbine-shaped wheels that attract water as they revolve, and a part on the entrance that releases the water to attain propulsion. It additionally permits the car to be turned utilizing the steering wheel.
In 2016, Fomm fashioned a partnership with Trinex Belongings Co., a Thai actual property firm whose president additionally runs a car-parts maker, to assist construct the car, which is now on its fourth prototype. Manufacturing is scheduled to begin in December, with the automotive occurring sale across the similar time. Thailand, a serious automaking hub, began favorable insurance policies for plug-in automobiles and hybrids this yr, together with tax breaks for so long as eight years.
Tsurumaki has attracted some big-name Japanese traders. Yamada Denki Co., the biggest home-appliances and consumer-electronics chain, fashioned a capital alliance in October, with out disclosing the stake. It plans to promote the automotive. In November, he sealed a tieup with audiovisual tools maker Funai Electronics Co., which can assist produce the automotive in Japan.
Tsurumaki’s electrical metropolis commuter, which is about the identical dimension as a golf cart, incorporates a light-weight physique and batteries underneath every of its 4 seats. It accelerates by pulling a lever on the steering wheel, which is partly to avoid wasting area. The batteries are replaceable, so customers will not have to attend the six hours it takes for a full cost. The automotive will journey as a lot as 160 kilometers (99 miles) on one cost, with a prime pace of 80 kilometers per hour.
“The automotive might function an improve for tricycles in Bangkok as the federal government pushes for cleaner automobiles, and it is simply as simple to navigate because the tuk-tuks,” mentioned Ken Miyao, an analyst at consultancy Carnorama Inc. in Tokyo. “‘I can see an affordable likelihood for them to succeed.”
Whereas the startup has made progress, challenges nonetheless abound.
The largest is prices. Electrical automobiles are already costly to supply, due to the excessive prices of components equivalent to batteries. The floating automotive could have further bills, equivalent to for sealants to make it watertight.
Initially, Tsurumaki needed to model its physique like robust army automobiles, however the price prompted him to surrender on the thought. He settled on a design and supplies that may simply let it float.
The comparatively small annual manufacturing goal makes it tougher to barter good offers with suppliers, based on Tsurumaki. Which means the automobiles will promote for about 580,000 baht ($18,153), sufficient to purchase a a lot greater car.
“It is a chicken-and-egg state of affairs,” he mentioned.
Tsurumaki says he is trying to minimize the value to lower than $5,000 per automotive by sourcing mass-produced elements at decrease prices.
Miyao, the analyst, agrees price is vital.
“They should make automobiles as low-cost as these with out floating capabilities,” he mentioned. “I do not suppose anybody would wish to pay twice as a lot only for this gimmick they can use solely as soon as of their lifetimes at finest.”