Earlier this year, M.I.T. Press released Reinventing the Automobile: Personal Urban Mobility for the 21st Century. The book was an expression of the vision of Professor William J. Mitchell and the Smart Cities research group he directed at M.I.T. for the last decade. One of the book's more intriguing elements was the CityCar concept, a vehicle that has been under development at Smart Cities since 2003, when M.I.T. accepted funding from General Motors to dramatically re-envision personal transportation for the 21st century.
Professor Mitchell passed away this summer, but apparently not before bringing the latest version of the CityCar to near-completion. A Spanish company is currently working to build prototypes of the car for testing in Boston, Singapore, Taiwan and Italy. But this isn't just a multi-million dollar concept vehicle that has no practical hope of being produced in numbers. M.I.T. engineers and designers were careful to account for every cost in building the vehicle, and say that if it were to go into production today it could retail for roughly $18,000.
So why would a person—or more importantly, a fleet operator—want a university-designed neighborhood electric vehicle instead of a Smart Car or a Think? For one, the CityCar is 40 percent smaller than those cars, allowing it to fit three-to-a-parking-space in crowded urban settings. But the more important distinctions lie in the unique challenges that the Smart Cities group set out to meet in designing the vehicle.
The purpose of the car is primarily to supplement public transportation systems, providing coverage for the "first and last mile of a trip." This means that ideal deployment would come in the form of urban car-sharing fleets, situated outside of public transport hubs.
There are also several cool aspects of the CityCar that make it unique from other green concepts. Power for the car comes from four individual electric motors located in each wheel—which eliminates the need for a bulky central powerplant. The independent motors also allow the CityCar to rotate completely in place, making parallel parking and K-turns a non-factor in its operation.
There are plenty of more interesting details about the CityCar and the Smart Cities project, so if you're interested, be sure to check out Reinventing the Automobile, or this video feature from Green Revolution.