Electric car with cypress body goes for a test ride

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A driver rides an electric vehicle with a body made of Owase Hinoki cypress, in Owase, Mie Prefecture.

OWASE, Mie — An electric vehicle with a body made of locally produced Hinoki Japanese cypress is on display at the Kumanokodo Center in Owase, Mie Prefecture.

The car was made by students at Osaka Sangyo University at the request of local residents. About 2 meters long and 1 meter wide, the car can travel 50 kilometers on a single charge at up to 50 kph.

The Kumanokodo Center was established by the Mie prefectural government to collect and disseminate information on the nature, history and culture of the area surrounding the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The center has also worked to promote local lumber, and in 2020, it displayed a wooden hybrid car that drew in visitors. However, the car used at that time was mainly made of Yoshino Cedar from Nara Prefecture. Locals wanted to display a car made out of Owase Hinoki, a local specialty, and established a committee for this purpose.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Kumanokodo Center is seen with Owase Hinoki used for the structure.

Having received the request, students at Osaka Sangyo University took on the challenge as their graduation project. For the body of the car, they used scrap wood from Owase Hinoki that is produced during the manufacturing of pillars, most of which is usually discarded.

“We can create demand for domestic lumber by making effective use of resources to manufacture valuable products,” said Prof. Keiji Yamada, who guided the students. “Even wood can maintain sufficient strength if it is properly used.”

The center began to hold free test-ride events every weekend. Staff drive the vehicle around the center’s premises, with visitors riding in the back seat. The center said it has been well received, with comments such as, “The smell of the wood and the soft touch are comforting.”

“The reddish grain unique to Owase Hinoki is beautiful. Just looking at it is fun,” said Hideo Miyamoto, 69, vice director of the Kumanokodo Center. He initiated the project.

“I want people to see the potential of the cypress lumber,” he said.

The center has already registered the vehicle as a type of scooter, meaning it can be ridden on public roads. In the future, the center is considering renting it out for local events.

The cypress vehicle will be on display until Aug. 31. Test-ride events have been suspended due to the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Owase Hinoki

The Japanese cypress grown in dense forests on steep mountains in Owase has dense annual rings, making for sturdy lumber. Since the Edo period (1603-1867), the Kishu clan, a feudal clan based in Wakayama, actively planted cypress trees. Owase Hinoki is highly valued as a building material. The cypress was used for the round table at the Group of Seven Ise-Shima summit in 2016, which attracted much attention.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
G7 leaders gather around a table made of Owase Hinoki at the Ise-Shima summit in 2016, in Shima, Mie Prefecture.