Japanese auto startup has big plans for a tiny car

A Japanese startup wants to shake up the auto industry with a single-seat electric vehicle it aims to bring to market next year.

KG Motors has been developing what it calls the 'Minimum Mobility' model since 2022. Just 2.5 meters long and 1 meter wide, it is expected to have a price tag of 1 million yen, or about $6,700.

The electric vehicle is 1.5 meters high.

Production costs have been kept to a minimum by adopting a retro-inspired design that requires fewer than usual panel molds.

Windows are manually operated and all within reach of the driver, though air conditioning ensures comfort regardless of the season.

Kusunoki Kazunari is CEO of KG Motors. The company has only five employees.

KG Motors CEO Kusunoki Kazunari used to run a parts supplier, but he sold the company in 2018 to pursue his dream of founding his own automaker.

"There are few mobility startups like ours in Japan," he says. "But in the United States and China, for example, startups are constantly being launched. That makes me think we can do it, too."

The "KG" in KG Motors stands for Kussun Garage, a moniker that incorporates Kusunoki's nickname.

In response to the global trend toward decarbonization, he decided to focus on EVs. And he's done his homework on single-seat vehicles.

The case for single-seaters

Kusunoki considered a government survey on car use. It shows that about 70 percent of car owners in Japan say they drive alone on weekdays. On weekends, the figure stands at 50 percent.

His vehicle also meets criteria that allows for reduced inspections and car taxes. And in 2020, Japan's government revised a law that paves the way for single-seat EVs to operate on public roads.

Startup challenges

Development has been steady in a market regarded as especially difficult for startups.

Ishida Haruo, Professor Emeritus at the University of Tsukuba, explains that securing suppliers can be a challenge.

Ishida Haruo was a member of a government working team on small vehicles.

"Even though EVs have fewer parts, they require extremely advanced technology. There are not many firms in Japan that will produce parts in small lots. That can be a huge headache for startups," he says.

"An exciting car"

KG Motors is based in Hiroshima, which offers a geographical advantage. The region hosts Mazda's headquarters and many of its affiliates — some of which are eager to collaborate.

KG Motors posts online videos that track progress.

Kusunoki is also generating a buzz through social media. His YouTube channel boasts nearly 200,000 subscribers.

Some of those subscribers have even been enlisted to help develop the vehicle, offering specialist knowledge on auto development and software.

"The best thing is that we're making an exciting car. And if drivers have a blast going around in it every day, well, as a result, we will help enormously in decarbonization," says Kusunoki.

With a vehicle that promises speeds of up to 60 kilometers per hour, a comfy cabin, and no gas bills, KG Motors could be a marque to watch.

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