Jan. 27, 2012 at 2:03 PM ET
The commercial version of a two-seater foldable electric car that driver and passenger enter through a pop-out windshield was officially unveiled this week in Europe.
The car, called Hiriko, is powered by four in-wheel motors that each turn a full 90 degrees. Its compact — and compactable — design coupled with four-wheel steering should allow parking in the tightest of spaces on crowded city streets.
The concept is based on the electric CityCar created by researchers at the MIT Media Lab, and commercialized by a consortium of automotive companies in the Basque region of Spain.
Hiriko, which is Basque for "urban," made its debut at a ceremony Jan. 24 by José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission in Brussels.
With electric motors in the wheels, there's no need for a gas tank or traditional gasoline engine, transmission and gearbox, allowing the rear of the car to slip under the chassis.
When folded, three of the cars can fit in one traditional parking space.
The MIT Media Lab envisions the cars finding a home in car-share programs where members drive any available ride around the city and parking at widely distributed charging stations.
The cars have a reported range of 100 km (62 miles) per charge, making them well suited for in-city driving in compact European cities already accustomed to small, fuel-efficient vehicles.
While the vehicles should appeal to cities and consumers keen to save money and the environment, the Economist notes that "supercompact cars have not done nearly as well as their proponents had hoped."
One of the hurdles, IHS Global Insight analyst Tim Urquhart told the magazine, is that cars like Hiriko are low value, low price, "and, therefore, they are low margin" — not much of a money maker.
Time will tell if these little electric rides find market acceptance. The first car-sharing trial is slated for Malmo, Sweden's third largest city, the Guardian reports. Other cities around the world have reportedly expressed interest, including Berlin, San Francisco, and Hong Kong.
Commercial production is slated to begin in Spain next year. The cars will cost 12,500 Euros each to build. A video of the unveiling ceremony is below.
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