John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The Hiriko electric vehicle is so cute you might just want to pick it up and carry it home.
Ever wanted to whirl around the city in a metallic gnat's head while consuming zero gasoline? Then your weird dreams have come true, via the Hiriko smart car that folds like an envelope to squeeze into impossible parking spots.
Hiriko is being promoted by Basque auto society AFYPAIDA in collaboration with MIT's Changing Places Group and DENOKINN. It's billed as the world's first "self-folding vehicle," even though America's monster-truck rallies have possessed this technology for some time. Let's just say it's the world's smallest bendable car.
A trio of these puppies can cram into an average-sized parking space. The "hood" portion swings upward, collapsing the distance between the front and back wheels (sadly, without this sound effect) and allowing the driver to dismount from the vehicle like he's striding forth from a door. Conversely, climbing into the folded-up Hiriko makes it seem like a person's getting swallowed by a Transformer. It's a style that may take some getting used to among old-school drivers.
Though you may struggle to fit an IKEA table inside its cabin, the Hiriko makes up for its shrimpy comportment with a killer turning radius. That's because each wheel has its own electric power system – the whole vehicle is electrically driven, in fact – allowing it to twist and turn like a frenzied bug, whipping into parking spaces and cutting off larger vehicles at lightning speed.
The car also has a haptic steering wheel like your Wii remote, for some reason, and a "state-of-the-art information system for permanent communication in an intelligent city environment." It tops out at about 56 mph on the highway; a type of limiting apparatus can knock it down to 30 mph in urban areas.
It's certainly fanciful, but people in high-up places are taking Hiriko seriously. Speaking earlier this year of the rampant congestion in continental cities, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso called the littlest car "part of the solution to the crisis. Hiriko is an example of how to resuscitate traditional industrial sectors and lead them to new challenges, such as urban mobility." And several metropolises have already asked for Hirikos on a trial basis, according to The Pop-Up City, including San Francisco, Berlin and Barcelona.
The first Hiriko is scheduled to roll out of the factory some time next year. The developers hope to put 9,000 of them on the road by 2015, mostly in municipal fleets. What will you have to pay to possess one of these teensy-weensy green cars? With today's currency exchange, it looks to be about $15,000. But how much is your time worth trying to find a non-existent parking space?
Here's a promo video for the Hiriko showing its unique collapsing ability. Look at those folks ogle the strange ride at the end:
And this mobility test shows that the wheels spin with hardly any noticeable movement. Are we sure there's not a guy in there running on the pavement, Fred Flintstone-style?
(Top image courtesy of the Hiriko press room.)