After the 2011 tsunami in Japan, when 133-foot waves killed thousands of people and caused around $300 billion in damage, a Japanese startup began designing an electric car that can survive major storms: If there’s a flood, the car can float to safety.
The FOMM Concept One isn’t considered amphibious–you’re not supposed to use it to drive to work through a river or lake. But in an emergency, it can navigate through water.
A water jet generator pushes the car forward, while the lightweight tires act like fins. Unlike a gas-powered cars that need oxygen to run, the electric motors can keep working underwater. It’s not entirely waterproof–if it has to drive through a serious flood, it will need some repairs afterward. But it won’t be ruined, and it can help anyone stuck inside survive.
The company’s founder, a former designer for Suzuki, was inspired by the fact that his own hometown is at high risk for tsunamis. “He wanted to design a mobility device that can withstand those environments,” says a company spokesperson. He also wanted to design an electric car that was affordable in other flood-prone areas, like Thailand and Indonesia, where cars are typically considered as major an investment as a house.
One of the reasons the car will be more affordable is its tiny size–at just over eight feet long, it’s smaller than a Mini Cooper, and though it has four seats, it’s actually also smaller than the two-seated Smart Electric Drive. It also has other unique features: The electric motors are inside the wheels, which saves space in the car. Instead of a standard steering wheel and pedals, the FOMM uses a motorcycle-like handlebar to steer, brake, and accelerate. Instead of a typical air conditioner, it uses a simple cooling system that doesn’t drain the electric battery.
The name FOMM stands for “First One Mile Mobility,” and the car is clearly intended for short trips–from home to a train station, a car-sharing pickup spot, or nearby errands. The designer was inspired by his own elderly parents, who have limited mobility, and millions of others in Japan’s aging population who face similar challenges.
The car will launch in Thailand next year, and FOMM is going to focus initially on the Asian market. But it seems like it could have appeal in cities around the world; 1 billion people live in cities at risk for sea-level rise and flooding because of climate change.