More than half the world’s population lives in cities, a percent that is estimated to increase to 70% by 2050. Much of the urban growth will be in the emerging economies like China and India where a new middle-class wants Western conveniences … like cars. But there are huge costs to owning and driving cars in cities: (i) cars are gas-guzzlers that pollute the environment; (ii) they are big and bulky, adding to congestion; (iii) individual ownership again leads to more congestion and air pollution. This tension between the need and unsustainability of the automobile, calls for a new approach to urban mobility.
Most environmentalists agree that the best solution is for everyone to walk and cycle more and take more public transport. But let’s be honest: most people don’t like walking home from the train station after a long day’s work. They want a form of transportation that takes them right to their front door, i.e. that covers what is known as “the last mile”. Bike and car sharing schemes offer the best solution: transportation vehicles that have numerous drop-off points around the city and can be rented to take you very close to your home. This multiple use of transportation types for one journey is known as inter-modal transport. But in the case of cars, we still have two additional problems: pollution from gasoline combustion and congestion due to bulk. Cities need a micro sharable inter-modal transport that relies on renewable energy.
Enter the Hiriko. Launched last week in Brussels, the Hiriko is a micro electric car designed by MIT’s Media Lab and developed by a consortium of companies in Bilbao, Spain. Designed specifically for cities, it is a 6.5 feet, 1100 pound car that runs on two rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and can travel for 120km when fully charged. It’s meant to be part of a shared car service operated by the city, which can be rented for a small fee. The car’s computers are connected and each car can instantly be located by a smart phone. It further shrinks in size because it can be folded up (like a child’s stroller) and 3-4 Hiriko’s can fit in a standard parking space. It has an electric motor at each wheel, which means that it can move sideways into parking spots (no need for parallel parking skills). At a price of $16,000, the car has attracted interest from several cities including Barcelona, San Francisco, Berlin and Malmö