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. photo: subway in NYC
    Transportation

    Inside Bloomberg's $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan

    Drawing on his time as New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg proposes handing power and money to urban leaders as part of his Democratic presidential bid.

  2. Environment

    Housing Discrimination Made Summers Even Hotter

    The practice of redlining in the 1930s helps explain why poorer U.S. neighborhoods experience more extreme heat.

  3. Transportation

    In Paris, a Very Progressive Agenda Is Going Mainstream

    Boosted by big sustainability wins, Mayor Anne Hidalgo is pitching bold plans to make the city center “100 percent bicycle” and turn office space into housing.

  4. photo: a couple tries out a mattress in a store.
    Equity

    What’s the Future of the ‘Sleep Economy’?

    As bed-in-a-box startup Casper files for an IPO, the buzzy mattress seller is betting that the next big thing in sleep is brick-and-mortar retail outlets.

  5. photo: San Diego's Trolley
    Transportation

    Out of Darkness, Light Rail!

    In an era of austere federal funding for urban public transportation, light rail seemed to make sense. Did the little trains of the 1980s pull their own weight?

×