TOKYO – The government and Nissan Motor Co. have started trials for ultra-minicars to explore the needs of target users, particularly suburban families, with the aim of promoting the use of the cars.

Previous trials were conducted with elderly passengers and tourists. This time, Nissan and the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry are conducting the trials with mothers and their children, who are expected to use the vehicle frequently.

The aim of the trial, which started Tuesday, is to discover the wide range of needs of expected ultra-minicar users and collect information on road conditions needed to operate the vehicles safely.

The trial involves seven households with children in Aoba Ward, Yokohama. The families were provided with an ultra-minicar by Nissan for free for two weeks through March 4.

An ultra-minicar’s engine is 125cc or less, or less than 8 kilowatts if it is electric. Its dimensions must be 11 feet or less in length by 4.5 feet meters or less in width. The cars can have a maximum of two seats for adults, or seats for one adult and two children. It is prohibited to drive such cars on highways.

The ultra-minicars provided for the trial can run for a maximum of 62 miles on a single charge at the maximum speed of 50 mph.

Aoba Ward is a suburban area that has many households with children, as well as streets with many alleys and slopes. The trials are aimed at collecting information to adapt the vehicle for such short-distance trips as transporting children to school and going shopping.

“The ultra-minicar is convenient. It can carry much more than I expected,” a 47-year-old mother of three said.

Participants in the trial are to report on their daily use of the vehicle, including purpose and distance. Such information will be used to enhance the car’s safety features and illuminate such problems as traffic congestion.

The ministry has introduced a system to allow ultra-minicars to be driven on designated public roads. Since February it has been accepting applications from local governments that wish to introduce the vehicle. It is expected to give its first approval as early as March.

The ministry also plans to study the possibility of introducing ultra-minicars in areas hit hard by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, to promote their use.