Meet the Small Three-Seater French Electric Car: The mia
It's a new car, but it has a long story behind it.
It's a sad story because it escaped at the last minute from being another victim of France's deindustrialization. This little car was unveiled as a concept under the name of Heuliez Friendly at the Paris motor show in September 2008. Heuliez, a contract manufacturer and supplier to the auto industry, slowly disappeared, with layoffs getting many headlines in France—but the EV team remained intact and focused. Some German investors got control of it, with the manufacturing facility the car required. At last, the engineers completed the car's development, and got the production started last June.
The car has a new name: mia. Like the smart car, you're not supposed to write it starting with a capital letter. That's not the only thing the mia has in common with the smart. Both are very small city cars. The mia is only slightly bigger. It's 7 inches longer and 3 inches wider, with the same height. Yet the mia has a strong advantage: It's a 3-seater.
The driver sits alone in front, with the passengers behind. It's good use of space. The McLaren F1 supercar was like that too, but the mia is no supercar. I believe it's the least performing car on the market. It's not a low-speed vehicle though.
It's registered as a car, with a top speed of 62 miles per hour. It will prevent you from speeding on the highway. The motor produces 18 kilowatts—not enough for a normal car but the little mia weighs only 750 kg (1,650 pounds), so it's adequate for city driving. Traveling cross-country isn't possible anyway because of the limited range. Fifty miles is possible with the standard 8 kWh battery, with an optional 12 kWh one if you want more range. The advantage of the small battery is that recharging doesn't take long: only three hours on a standard socket in Europe. They've chosen lithium iron phosphate cells (LiFePO4), which should last several years thanks to a sharp management system.
I haven't driven the mia yet, but I've been sitting in it, looking closely at everything. There's little doubt that it comes from a small manufacturer. You could compare it to a Think City, but the quality of the plastics is inferior to anything from a major carmaker, such as Hyundai or Chevrolet. Yet, it feels quite nice. Murat Gunak, the designer, has been smart enough to give the car some youthful flavor. A little 5-leaf clover on the side is a push button to open the door. The mia is also fantastically convenient in the city with its large sliding doors. This is the easiest car I know for getting in and out. If there's one thing wrong with the mia, it's going to be the price.
When the concept was unveiled, in 2008, the goal was to sell it for about 12,000 euros. In the end, the mia costs 19,950 euros ($28,375), and that's a lot of money for such a small car. But don't blame the manufacturer. The problem is the huge cost of doing business in France. There's one zillion regulations for any manufacturing company and the big brands which are closing their factories don't shut them down for no reason. Yet what makes the mia so expensive will make it attractive to some people. Compared to most cars with parts coming from everywhere, the mia is totally French-built. Even the battery pack is French. The cells are outsourced, but the pack with all its electronics is made in France.
All customers so far have been government agencies, utilities companies or city services, signing up so many orders that the mia won't be available to private customers before next year.
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