The Germans – of course – are working on it.

If you’re in the market for a car in a crowded inner city, you inevitably have to chose between two mutually exclusive options. You can get a tiny car, good for parallel parking in enviable tight spots, or you can get something with a bigger frame but worse gas mileage that’s less likely to consume you in a collision. You cannot, as a general rule, get both.

When it comes to electric cars, the choice is even rougher: The heavier and safer they get, the less range their batteries have. And so one of the challenges for engineers going forward is how to make electric cars both light, safe and wide-ranging for urban living (yes, yes, we know some people think urban living should require no car at all).

A German consortium of researchers and car-makers is at work on this, in what’s called the Visio.M project. Their prototype, pictured above, includes an interior passenger compartment made of lightweight carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic. We're not auto engineers, but the researchers say the body structure is one typically used in racing cars, while some of the composite materials in the vehicle come straight out of aircraft and luxury sports cars. They’re also toying with safety ideas like specially adapted seat belts to minimize collision injuries.

This all sounds promising, although we’re less convinced by the color scheme:

The researchers also admit that they’ve had to make concessions in one other major way to avoid skimping on safety and compact size: These materials aren’t cheap. So we won’t hold our breath for the mass-market compact and safe e-car any time too soon.

The prospect of one, though, does raise an intriguing question: What will mockers of the Smart Car say when they can no longer argue that little urban compacts are death traps to drive?

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A young girl winces from the sting as she receives the polio vaccine in 1954.
    Life

    How Mandatory Vaccination Fueled the Anti-Vaxxer Movement

    To better understand the controversy over New York’s measles outbreak, you have to go back to the late 19th century.

  2. A photo of shoppers on University Avenue in East Palo Alto, California, which is flanked by two technology campuses.
    Equity

    An Island of Silicon Valley Affordability Says Yes to More Housing

    East Palo Alto is surrounded by tech riches, but that hasn’t necessarily helped longtime residents, who welcome a state law mandating zoning reform

  3. A crowded room of residents attend a local public forum in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
    Life

    Are Local Politics As Polarized As National? Depends on the Issue.

    Republican or Democrat, even if we battle over national concerns, research finds that in local politics, it seems we can all just get along—most of the time.

  4. Life

    How to Inspire Girls to Become Carpenters and Electricians

    Male-dominated trades like construction, plumbing, and welding can offer job security and decent pay. A camp aims to show girls these careers are for them, too.

  5. Equity

    What the Supreme Court Said About the 2020 Census Citizenship Question

    In oral arguments, conservative justices asked about data science, while liberals asked what the citizenship question was really for.