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Cypress car hits the road

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                                A driver rides an electric vehicle with a body made of Owase hinoki cypress in Owase, Mie prefecture.


    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.

The car was made by students at Osaka Sangyo University in response to a request by local residents. About 6-1/2-by-3-feet in size, the car can travel more than 30 miles on a single charge at about 30 mph.

The center was established by Mie prefecture’s government to collect and disseminate information on the nature, history and culture of the area, which surrounds the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route, which is recognized 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 attention. However, the car was made mostly of Yoshino cedar from Nara prefecture. Locals wanted a car on display made of Owase hinoki, a local specialty. The Japanese cypress is grown in dense forests on steep mountains in Owase and has dense annual rings, making for sturdy lumber.

Students at Osaka Sangyo took on the challenge as their graduation project. For the body of the car, they used scrap wood left from the manufacturing of pillars.

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

They had been holding free test-rides every weekend, with staff driving the car around the center and visitors riding in the back seat. The rides were well received. One rider said, “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, vice director of the center, who initiated the project. “I want people to see the potential of cypress lumber.”

The center has already registered the vehicle as a scooter, which means it can be operated on public roads. It is considering renting the car for local events.

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

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