The next great electric car may not be from GM, Ford, or even upstarts like Tesla and Coda. The Hiriko (it means "urban car" in Basque) can fold up in small parking spaces, has a 75-mile range on all-electric power, wheels that rotate 360 degrees (for the ultimate tight turn), a cost of $16,210—and it was conceived of by MIT’s Media Lab.
A prototype of Hiriko, which was developed in collaboration with seven automotive suppliers in Spain, is so compact that passengers can only get out by pushing the glass shell open. It’s a good thing the car doesn’t require gas; there isn’t even room for a gas tank. But when folded, three Hiriko vehicles can fit into a single parking space.
MIT’s seven collaborators will all contribute to production of the vehicle, with each one producing different core components (i.e. battery system, vehicle chassis, interior, etc.). Commercial versions of the vehicle are expected to be ready by 2013.
The vehicle will be deployed in Europe using a car-sharing model a la Zipcar, but run by city governments. No word yet on which city will be the first to test out Hiriko, but Berlin and Barcelona have expressed interest, as have the Galapagos Islands and San Francisco. Don’t be surprised if a Spanish city gets dibs; the Hiriko project notes on its website that the project "is born with a clear vision of transforming and regenerating the industrial grid in both Alava and the Basque Country."
MIT’s Smart Cities program is working on more transportation projects than just Hiriko. The team has also developed the electric assist Greenwheel bicycle and the Roboscooter, a folding electric motor scooter. Neither of these projects, however, are gaining steam quite as fast as Hiriko.