A One-Seat $12,000 EV Commuter Car for Europe in 2015

By · December 02, 2013

Colibri city car

The Colibri is a one-seater commuter car with, potentially, a low price of entry (though you'll have to rent the battery). (Colibri graphic)

“New reservations are coming in on a daily basis.” That's the word from Colibri, the Jena, Germany makers of a tiny city-oriented electric one-seater runabout that was originally due next year, but has now been delayed to late 2015 as the company continues to search for investors to get it over the finish line. The car is targeted to sell for just $12,000 (plus a $74 monthly rental for the six kilowatt-hour lithium battery pack).

The Colibri has benefited from EV subsidies totaling $3.7 million from the German government over two years. The company claims to have met the goals set out in the two-year 2011-2012 program. But that level of support won’t go far in launching a new car company. Fisker, for instance, spent $192 million of U.S. government money on its way to failure.

A Tricky Market

Obviously, the ground is now littered with failed EV startups, and pre-orders—even a healthy 700 of them (half private customers, half fleets)—are no guarantee of success. Colibri claims that its 2015 production is already “sold out” in terms of those pre-orders, but getting your name on this car’s list appears to be a matter of checking a box in an online form. Colibri was launched in 2008, and is inching its way to the market.

But the Colibri is definitely interesting as a potential urban commuter car, with possible uses in fleets and car-sharing applications. The basics are that it’s a car on a hybrid space frame (claims are that it will pass European NCAP crash tests) with doors that swing up (rather than out) to admit a single occupant. Two will fit into a standard parking space.

The entire touch-screen dash panel moves out of the way to let you in, but it still looks a bit awkward. Blurbs say that drivers up to six foot three are accommodated.

Colibri city car

Gullwing doors are part of the Colibri package, as well as a swingaway touchscreen dash. (Colibri graphic)

Small is Beautiful

The Colibri weighs less than 1,000 pounds, and has a range of 68 miles on a charge, with 62 mph coming up in a decent 9.9 seconds. But speed is limited to 74.5 mph. A full charge is said to take two hours from 220 volts—it’s a small battery.

There are no plans to sell the Colibri in the U.S., and I think that’s wise. No matter how many large cities there are in America where this car would work fine, the bottom line is that buyers here want their vehicles to be highway capable. The Colibri might be able to keep up with traffic on interstates, but it’s so small that you’d probably be white-knuckled among the diesel semis.

On the other hand, in some city car-share or rental program the little vehicle could work. The 300-vehicle-strong San Diego-based Car2Go program—with nothing but tiny Smart Electric Drives—is still alive and well.

The company needs investors to proceed. In a statement Monday, Thomas delos Santos, one of three founders, said, “Financing a vehicle project is like playing in the champions league; even if you have a highly motivated team, it requires to fight it out to reach the finals.” Investors can take part in the current funding round until the end of 2013.

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