citycarMany of you are familiar (there are advertisements, after all) with the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf. These electric cars are becoming available within months.

We’d like to draw your attention to a project being undertaken by MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) to “to meet the demand for enclosed personal mobility – with weather protection, climate control and comfort, secure storage, and crash protection – in the cleanest and most economical way possible. It weighs less than a thousand pounds, parks in much less space than a Smart Car, and is expected to get the equivalent of 150 to 200 miles per gallon of gasoline. Since it is battery-electric, it produces no tailpipe emissions.”

The car does not have a central engine and traditional power train, but instead is powered by four “in-wheel” electric motors.  This is a radical departure from car design.  This is by no means a car that is just shrunken in every dimension.  Nope, this car meets EarthPM’s full definition of a Green By Definition project – its design is meant to have a much broader effect than just making the car less thirsty for energy.  In fact, you can read about that broader effect in this excellent article from SmartPlanet.com.

From the article, here are some design highlights:

  1. The car will weigh less than 1,000 pounds. It folds vertically (think of a cat arching its back). Chin says that you’ll be able to fit three CityCars into a conventionally sized parking spot. (It’s about 60 percent the size of a Smart Car.)
  2. The vehicle is meant to hold two passengers, and you actually enter from the front. The way that the car can turn (its wheels can articulate) means that you can actually step out onto the sidewalk once the vehicle is in place.
  3. There is no centralized engine for the vehicle. The drive mechanism is actually in the wheels themselves.
  4. The design uses Lithium-ion batteries that are housed in the floor.
  5. You can fast-charge the batteries in as little as 15 minutes.
  6. The cars are assembled in a component design. So, for example, the wheels could snap on and off, which is meant to help with servicing.
  7. The cost to produce the car is hopefully around $18,000, but Chin admits this price point is a bit “academically dishonest.” That’s because it doesn’t account for the cost of building the charging infrastructure.

What about the broader implications?  Check this out (again quoting from the SmartPlanet article):

Here’s how it would work. Say you’ve got a job interview or appointment in a nearby city. There’s a great train schedule into the city center, but from there, you’re facing an uptown journey of almost a mile and a half, one that isn’t served by a local subway line. Do you leave extra time to walk? If you were going to a city that was using CityCars or one of the other vehicles that the team is working on, you could shave some time off the commute. You would simply swipe a credit card and drive the vehicle to the nearest depot.

You can find a full description of this car here , on MIT’s own site under its directory of PROJECTS.  In fact, you can see a little video showing how these little gems work, right here.  There’s also a nice video about these cars here.