Hot, Tiny Wheels
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because easing your car into a teacup-sized space sounds really convenient right about now.
By Eugene S. Robinson
We know: Sometimes it seems like we’re making this stuff up. The world’s first folding car was conceived at MIT, developed by a Spanish consortium in Basque country and is called something decidedly un-Spanish-sounding: the Hiriko. The design borrowed its wheelbase concept from the French (the 1992 Renault Zoom, to be exact), but the folding bit? That’s a product of the late William Mitchell and his Smart Cities Research Group at MIT, whose mission was to find what the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, called “a systematic solution to major societal challenges.”
And so it is: all electrical, weighing less than 1,100 pounds, 98 inches long, able to fold down to 59 inches (smaller than many bicycles) and with a wheelbase whose four wheels can turn 60 degrees left or right, which means it can drive sideways into the smallest street spots. The Hiriko emits no fumes and can cover a range of 75 miles on one charge. It’s practically a dream vehicle for city dwellers – so long as you don’t mind having a car with no side doors and having to enter via the front windshield.
The Hiriko is not the only one of its kind. Just three months after Hiriko announced it was heading into production, another Spanish firm announced its Casple-Podadera, a bit heftier at 1,590 pounds but equally flexible, with the ability to tuck its rear wheels underneath its passenger seats. More competition has sprung up from South Korea, with its Armadillo-T, a 110-inch-long car that folds into a tidy 65 inches and parks itself with a tap on your smartphone. Both are seeking financial backing to move into manufacturing.
More than simply a green dream, the Hiriko prototype vehicle was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2013 with the assistance of Deutsche Bahnon, following some successful preproduction runs back in 2012. This and an aggressive retail rollout plan for early 2014 will see the Hiriko being pitched to municipalities and ride-share programs in Barcelona, Berlin and other European cities, and even San Francisco. The price? A cool $16,000.
Not bad for something small enough to squeeze into the cars we drive now.