Despite the Fold’s promise, not everyone shares Hiriko’s unabashed enthusiasm for the tiny car. Many possible solutions have been put forward to solve the first/last-mile puzzle, warns Deakin. Car-pooling and bike-sharing systems, shuttle bus services, and station car and van schemes have all been tested, and failed to get the required number of commuters out of their cars. High labour costs, lack of cooperation among users, inconvenience, and technology shortcomings are some of the reasons these earlier attempts have been less than successful. “However, this Hiriko/CityCar project seems to have progressed farther than most,” she says.
One way the Hiriko consortium hopes to overcome these problems is by selling the micro-EV in functional modules, as a ‘snap-together’ car that can be assembled by local workers. The scheme would provide hometown jobs and allow the locality to customise the vehicles to match their needs. A hilly city could, for example, order more powerful batteries and motors to handle the extra strain.
Still, Deakin retains doubts regarding the plan’s ultimate safety and costs. “Will such a small, lightweight car really supply enough occupant protection during collisions with the much heavier and faster vehicles that also operate in cities?” she asks. “Special road lanes may be needed, which would raise costs.”
On the other hand the narrow streets in the town centres of older European cities and China’s new pop-up cities with dedicated lanes for city cars might be the ideal locations to rollout this technology, and could move the vehicles from the suburbs into city centres. “Such initial projects could bring greater manufacturing volumes that could help reduce the costs,” she says.
“We estimate that to establish a personal/public transport system in a city the size of Barcelona, we would need to start with about 400 vehicles in the city centre, which could then grow to 6,000 vehicles to cover all of the metropolitan area,” Fernandez Isoird says. “This means providing one vehicle per one-thousand inhabitants to service the public transport systems, taxis and private users.”
Then, perhaps, the Fold might expand into other cities. And commuters might finally have reason to leave their cars at home.