The impossible dream of scoring the perfect city parking spot is about to get somewhat more possible – at least in Germany, where the tiny Colibri, a single-seat electric car from upstart Innovative Mobility Automobile (IMA), is headed for production.
Set to become available for test-drives and pre-orders this year, and scheduled to enter series production during 2016, the Colibri is aimed squarely at businesses that operate fleets of service vehicles in densely populated urban areas, where parking is at a premium. But that doesn’t mean IMA isn’t also trying to woo everyday drivers, says Thomas delos Santos, IMA’s founder and chief executive officer.
In fact, the company has already received more than 1,200 orders from private customers. Another indication of the car’s early popularity: More than 150 dealers from around the world (mostly in Europe, but also including Israel, Brazil, the United States and Australia) have applied for licenses to sell the Colibri. And collectively, those dealers estimate there’s enough consumer interest to sell another 5,000 cars, says delos Santos.
IMA officials decided to name the Colibri after a genus of hummingbird because it reflects the car’s chief qualities: small, quick and speedy. “We also wanted to create a cost-saving solution that’s safe, comfortable and nice to look at, too,” he explains.
The Colibri appears to fit the bill on all counts. It weighs a mere 970lbs and measures about 9ft long, 4ft wide and 4½ft tall. And at a starting price of €10,990 (about $12,500) plus a monthly battery-rental fee of about $45, it’s roughly comparable to its most obvious rival in Europe, Renault’s Twizy electric microcar.
Why just one seat? IMA officials felt that to be successful, the car had to be priced significantly less than traditional urban runabouts. “It’s priced at least 30 percent lower than a combustion-driven microcar,” delos Santos says. “We had to decide if we wanted a second or third seat or to achieve our cost goals. People think they need more seats, even though they really don’t. Most people drive alone.”
The car features plastic body panels – including a very exotic gull-wing driver’s side door – over a stiff steel frame. Unlike the Twizy, the Colibri’s cockpit is completely enclosed, and its rear cargo area is spacious enough to accommodate a week’s worth of groceries.
Motivation comes from a 50kw electric motor (about 67hp) matched to a single-speed transmission. The rear-wheel-drive Colibri will zip from zero to 62mph in a respectable 9.9sec and press on to a top speed of 75mph. A lithium iron phosphate battery pack fully charges in about 2½hrs from a household outlet. IMA estimates the car will cruise for about 68 miles on full charge.
Initially, consumers will be able to test-drive a Colibri only in Germany. But IMA officials hope to expand availability into other countries later in the year.
Can the Colibri and cars of its ilk change the face of urban mobility in Europe? It won’t be easy. After selling some 9,000 Twizys in 2012, Renault saw sales of its petite plug-in slide rather dramatically in 2013 and 2014. Toyota is approaching the niche with caution. The company’s acclaimed i-Road, which recently completed a series of consumer trials in Japan, has arrived in Europe to commence a small-scale, three-year car-sharing program in Grenoble, France.
But despite some memorable failures (the US-built Corbin Motors Sparrow comes to mind, as does the UK’s oft-derided Sinclair C5), the market for single-seat urban microcars is showing signs of life. The self-balancing Lit Motors C1 is approaching production, and the svelte Zagato Volpe is gaining momentum in Italy. Ultimately, though, such cars’ greatest rival is the humble scooter. In Germany, a 50cc Vespa Primavera starts at €3,250 (about $3,700). Raincoat and backpack not included.
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