Folded Like Origami

Spanish city car shrinks to minimize space needed for parking.

by on Jan.31, 2012

Everything is smaller when folded, but could that work for cars as well?

A consortium of technology companies in the Basque region of Spain is planning to produce a tiny city car that was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Called Hiriko, European Commission President José Manuel Durao Barroso said the car “is an answer to the crisis,” the crisis being the problem with parking in Europe’s densely packed urban centers.

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When parked, the rear wheels slide toward the front and the two-person passenger compartment tilts up and forward, making it less than two-thirds the length of a Smart fortwo. Three of them can fit in one standard parking spot. Passengers exit through a single clamshell door on the front of the vehicle.

The Hiriko operates in the stretched position (top). It's single door opens from the front (middle). The rear wheels slide toward the front (bottom), making the vehicle about two-thirds the length of a Smart fortwo.

The key to the vehicle are its four “robotic wheels,” each steerable and each with its own electric motor. The trick electronic controls for the wheels give the Hiriko a zero-radius turning circle, which will also help with maneuverability in crowded city centers.

Hiriko claims the city car has a 75-mile range and a top speed of 56 mph. It can also be limited to 32 mph in the city.

The company has not released specifications such as weight, battery type and size and the power of the four electric motors. Several websites reported that the car would be priced at $16,233.

The Afypaida consortium hopes to open the first of several planned assembly plants in 2013 with plans to build 9,000 of the cars. Additional plants operated as franchises would be located in Europe and America, although officials didn’t say if that means the car will be built and sold in the U.S.

The CityCar project is brainchild of the late William J. Mitchell, director of the Smart Cities Media Lab research group. Mitchell, who was also the dean of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning died in 2010.

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