Japan Tries Cars That Make the Mini Look Maxi

Entrepreneurs bet ultracompacts will lure the nation’s older drivers
The ZEVe ultracompact Photograph by Town EV/Bloomberg

Japan, always huge in the business of making compact cars, is thinking even smaller. The so-called ultracompact—picture a street-legal golf cart—this month is set to become Japan’s first new vehicle niche to win government approval in 50 years. That’s drawn the attention of both established automakers and a new generation of startups eager to provide low-powered transportation for Japan’s aging population. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance,” says Yoshiro Sugimoto, 62, a Toyota Motor veteran who’s pooled 20 million yen ($254,800) of his and colleagues’ cash in a quest to build Japan’s smallest cars.

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