Hiriko derives from the Basque words “hiri”, meaning “city” and “ko”, meaning “belonging to”, so the name means “from the city”. At first glance, the Hiriko Fold looks like many of the futuristic electric micro-car concepts that auto designers have turned out in recent years, but this was the first one intended to be used primarily in car-share programmes.
On the outside, it is a mostly glass orb with four wheels, about half the length of a Ford Explorer SUV. But this pod-like EV is packed with unusual features – and a folding design – which distinguish it from its predecessors, says Carlos Fernandez Isoird, coordinator-general at the Hiriko group.
The unique fold-up body relies on a central pivot, which tips the front passenger module forward and up so that the rear trunk module can slide and tuck beneath it. When folded, the 2.5m-long (8ft) car shrinks to a scant 1.5m (5ft), allowing three-and-a-half Folds to fit in a standard parking space on a street. Like some vintage European ultra-compacts, both driver and passenger enter and exit via the front windshield, which doubles as the car’s only door.
The designers have replaced the steering column and the accelerator and brake pedals with an aircraft-like yoke. Push the yoke forward and the car speeds up. Pull it back and the car slows down. Move it left or right and the car turns. The yoke control even offers haptic feedback, recommending turns with a gentle tug on the driver’s hands. The wheels house the car’s four electric motors, and can rotate 60 degrees to the left and right, enabling the vehicle to spin on its central axis or travel sideways, which makes parallel parking a breeze.
The Fold may be state-of-the-art, but it won’t be fast or far ranging. With a top speed of only 50 km/h (31 mph) and a maximum range of about 120 km (75 miles), the car is best suited to short trips along urban streets. But the lithium-ion batteries powering the motors can be fully recharged in about 15 minutes, meaning it has very little down time.
In some countries, the Fold won’t be considered a car at all. Because the vehicle weighs less than 500 kg (1,100 lbs), it can be registered as a quadricycle, and drivers there may not even need a license to operate it.
When the Hiriko group unveiled the prototype at the European Commission in Brussels, in January 2012, it received a good deal of fanfare. Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission called the car a “systematic solution to major societal challenges”. In April, the Hiriko group launched a trial manufacturing run of the Fold in Vitoria-Gasteiz, a city in northern Spain, about 65 km (50 miles) from Bilbao.
The Hiriko group plans to sell the tiny two-seater to municipalities in Europe and elsewhere. Already Barcelona, Berlin, Malmo, San Francisco, and Vitoria-Gasteiz are working with the makers to develop fleets of folding EVs to serve their commuters, according to Fernandez Isoird. Also interested are transport managers in the Basque biosphere reserve of Urdaibai, the Spanish island of Ibiza, as well as Hong Kong and Florianopolis in southern Brazil.
The group’s shared-use car system would operate much like the bike-sharing programmes that exist in cities in Europe and North America. But instead of installing car stations solely in the city centres, they would be distributed throughout the suburbs and at satellite transit hubs.
Drivers could, for example, use a swipe card or electronic token to check out a Fold parked in a stack of folded vehicles from a car-share kiosk in their community, drive to a nearby transit station, and leave the automobile in an adjacent lot. So rather than travelling the entire distance between home and work in a personally owned, gasoline-burning car, the user would spend a short time walking, do a little EV driving and then jump on public transport for the ride into the city.