Traffic congestion, pollution and noise in large cities are increasing. Electric golf-cart-size quadricycles are being billed as affordable solutions to help ease these problems. Renault’s well-established Twizy, Bolt Mobility’s recently introduced Nano and concept models from manufacturers such as SEAT and Citroën are tailored to provide clean, efficient micro mobility in dense urban environments.
The suitability of these micro two-seaters for car sharing is among the strongest marketing pluses. The most common type of car sharing consists of “free-floating” cars that are picked up by unlocking them with a smartphone app. These are driven and then parked within a service zone for the next customer to drive. This reduces dependence on larger personal automobiles for short-distance transportation and, with electric propulsion, lowers pollution.
Caen Contee, co-founder of Lime, a company that recently expanded from electric-scooter and -bike sharing to car sharing, says the small vehicles reduce parking demands and complement public transportation. “People can go to a bus stop or light-rail stop,” Contee says, “find their way back into the city and go to their office on another Lime that they find at that end.”
Ride-sharing electric cars on the horizon
The new service, called “LimePod,” kicked off in Seattle using Fiat 500c gas vehicles, but “ultimately,” he says, “we see ourselves creating a platform effect and bringing the opportunity to have an on-demand, shared access to electric cars as an optimized way to get around their city environment day to day.”
Lime hasn’t officially announced the type of EV it will introduce into the fleet, but electrive.com reports a Twizy was the subject for a presentation to investors. Renault isn’t selling cars in the United States, so Twizy, which has been on the market since 2012, would be the sole Renault available for U.S. drivers to experience.
In 2009, former Renault Chairman Carlos Ghosn announced the Twizy, with a starting price tag at roughly $8,500, as part of a range of electric vehicles the manufacturer would build to “bring environmental soundness at a price everybody can afford.” He touted Renault’s electric vehicles as a breakthrough because they’re designed to be mass-marketed.
The Twizy measures about 91 inches long, 47 inches wide and 57 inches tall. It’s significantly smaller than a Smart fortwo, which is 106 inches long, 75 inches wide and 61 inches tall.
Twizy’s electric rear-drive system propels the 992-pound quadricycle to a 50 miles per hour top speed and a 62-mile range. It’s built on a durable tubular chassis developed by the Renaultsport performance division, has four-wheel-disc stopping power and is hyper-responsive with a tight turning radius.
Occupants sit in tandem with the driver up front and passenger behind. The driver is protected by an airbag and four-point seatbelt, and the passenger wears a three-point belt. This front/rear seating, which is typical of the new-breed quadricycles, was popularized by the 1950s Messerschmitt cars. Designed by an aircraft engineer, the tiny vehicles were built from 1955 to 1964 in three- and four-wheel versions. Like modern quadricycles, the tandem seating provides a balanced weight distribution that couples with a low center of gravity and wheel positioning to optimize stability and handling.
Bolt Mobility unveiled its tandem-seater “B-Nano” at the 2019 VivaTech conference in Paris, with company co-founder Olympic sprinter-great Usain Bolt on hand to pull the cover off the vehicle. “It’s the world’s smallest swappable-battery electric car,” a Bolt Mobility spokesman says. “We’ll be launching this all over the world in 2020.”
The introduction of the quadricycle came on the heels of the company’s announcement that it was offering its new electric Bolt Scooter. “If you want to go zero to 2 miles you take a scooter, if you want to go two miles to 15 miles you take a Nano,” the spokesman says. “You just take out your phone, you unlock it and it starts, and you park it wherever you want.”
Bolt Mobility is pricing the B-Nano at $9,999 and is taking reservations for $999. “You can use our Bolt platform to share the Nano and earn revenue for yourself,” the company advertises.
The B-Nano is roughly the size of a Twizy, and the company notes that “four B-Nanos can fit in one parking spot.” Similar to the Lime car-sharing system, the user gains access to the vehicle via an app and disconnects the app upon arrival at the destination. Estimated range is about 15 miles, but the company foresees most B-Nano users making two-mile treks. There’s no need for charging stations with the vehicle. When battery power is depleted the user swaps out the battery pack and continues the drive.
Batteries not included with vehicle
A battery isn’t included in the price of the electric vehicles, so buyers lease the battery pack. Secured in a tamper-proof compartment, a battery change can only be done at an authorized battery swapping station. The plus of leasing is that batteries are expensive and it would greatly reduce the cost of EV ownership.
An issue that Bolt Mobility hasn’t provided details about is the battery-swapping infrastructure, which isn’t well-developed. The advantage of micro vehicles is that the batteries are small and lightweight, making the feasibility of creating a swapping-station network much greater than with larger electric vehicles.
Given the compact form, battery swapping stations can easily pack in 15-20 replacement batteries, reports Forbes India. “It’s not difficult to imagine these battery swapping setups strategically placed across neighborhoods at first/last mile locations. The possibilities for battery swapping placement are endless. It can be a restaurant, an ATM, a gym, there’s really no place that’s out of bounds.”
Manufacturers are focused on small-EV development, and the growth of a battery-swapping infrastructure is inevitable. Spanish automobile manufacturer SEAT boasts the battery-swapping advantage of its recently unveiled Minimó electric quadricycle concept. Scheduled for production in 2021, SEAT reports “the Minimó is preparing for future Level 4 autonomous technologies, which would allow the vehicle to pick up the user when requested.”
The two-seater is described as bringing together the benefits of the smaller dimensions of a motorcycle with the safety and comfort of a larger passenger vehicle. Minimó stands out in the segment with large uncovered 17-inch wheels and a high SUV-like seating position.
Citroën recently unveiled its similar-sized electric Ami One Concept, featuring a cube-shaped body, roll-back canvas top and opposite-configured hinged doors – the driver-side door is rear hinged and the passenger-side door is front-hinged. Its two seats are asymmetrically positioned, with the passenger seat slightly behind the driver seat to maximize head- and leg-room.
The driver’s smartphone is placed on a dashboard charging area, and the phone’s infotainment and navigation information is projected head-up-display style on a reflection panel in the driver’s field of vision.
The development of smart micro cars is moving fast, and should start making a global impact within a decade. Large crowded cities, such as those in India and China, are ripe for pollution-free micro EVs. Traffic conditions in these cities are geared for tiny vehicles. For instance, small enclosed three-wheel motorcycles with many different body configurations are widely used as cargo carriers and rickshaws.
There are green-thinking drivers in big U.S. cities who will be open to micro mobility, but owners of conventional automobiles must be persuaded to abandon the safety, comfort, and cargo- and passenger-toting advantages of their larger vehicles.