If the Smart car isn’t dorky enough for your taste, it’ll soon have a worthy competitor.
Developed by researchers from the Changing Places group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in collaboration with the Basque Center for Innovation, the Hiriko is an egg-shaped, 75-mile-per-charge electric vehicle with the unique ability to fold itself up for parking. It doesn’t exactly fold into a briefcase like George Jetson’s space car, but rather collapses horizontally to 60″. The driver enters and exits through the fold-up windshield and can place the car in “compact” mode at any time, as it’s still drivable when compressed, with the two-seat cockpit simply rotating forward and up while the rear wheels remain stationary. There’s no need to worry about crushing any passengers or cargo, though the cup holder situation remains a mystery. The four wheels also rotate independently, giving the car a zero-turn radius and allowing it to sneak into the smallest of parking spaces.
“Our ultimate goal was to change the relationship of cities to automobiles. How can we make our vehicles adapt to our cities as opposed to making our cities adapt to our cars?” says Ryan Chin, a research specialist and Ph.D. candidate at the MIT Media Lab and one of the principal designers of a prototype vehicle, code-named the CityCar. “The global car fleet has ballooned to the point that there’s not enough land to accommodate them all, which makes it hard to find a parking space in the city. Add in the pollution that they produce and it’s clear that cars constitute a collective drag on urban areas.”
With a price tag of about $16,500, the Hiriko isn’t exactly cheap, but several European cities are reportedly interested in using the vehicle in shared pools, such as last-mile commuter vehicles, similar to bike-sharing programs already in place. Whether that’s considered a niche market or not, municipalities and corporations requiring fleets of super-compact electric vehicles are probably where most Hirikos will end up.