Is This Battery-Powered Subcompact the Future of Car Sharing?

Car sharing is growing in popularity, saving “car-lite” people the expense of vehicle ownership and taking cars off the road. As an additional benefit, some car sharing services have been making the transition to low-emissions vehicles.

The City Car: sleek, green, but will it suit the needs of car sharing users? Photo: Sharable: Cities

Some of the top minds at MIT have been pouring their talents into developing a greener model for car sharing. They have returned with The City Car: a battery-powered subcompact that seats two, weighs less than 1,000 pounds and uses four engines to capture the kinetic energy from braking.

Chikodi Chima at Network blog Sharable.net hails the new model as a paradigm shift in car sharing vehicles:

Car sharing programs such as Zipcar, City CarShare and I-Go are all incorporating high efficiency vehicles like the Toyota Prius hybrid into their growing roster of cars, but these vehicles are still stuck in a 20th century mindset that views a car as an instrument for personal mobility.

Even the most efficient car, as imagined today, is not designed with city drivers in mind. If they were, they would be built like the City Car, which represents true paradigm shift in car sharing vehicles. Clocking in at less than 1,000 pounds, the City Car is a battery-electric two-seater designed to travel the equivalent of 150 to 200 miles on the equivalent of a single gallon of gasoline. Rather than being built over a power train, the City Car has four independently-controlled engines that are digitally controlled and can harness energy from regenerative breaking. However, the real breakthrough of the City Car is its ability to “fold” itself to fit into tight parking spaces.

In the tight confines of a city like New York, or any downtown area, where delivery trucks, passenger vehicles, bikers and pedestrians are all jockeying for the same space, when fully folded, as many as four City Cars–only five feet in length–could fit in the same area as a single parking bay for one of today’s internal combustion cars.

The City Car has some impressive green credentials and a small spatial footprint for a motor vehicle. But how well suited is it for carrying items like groceries or hardware — a common impetus for car sharing trips? Is The City Car the vehicle car sharing users have been waiting for, or is it better engineered to replace trips that the car lite crowd could easily make biking or walking?

Elsewhere on the Network: M-Bike.org examines the historic under-representation of African Americans in cycling and a group that is seeking to change that pattern. Biking in L.A. reports that an analysis of rulings in jury trials involving injured cyclists shows a clear bias toward the driver.  And Urban Indy demonstrates how a range of national “pedestrianization” strategies could be applied in Indianapolis.