Folding electric car inches toward the market

Some concrete dates and prices for the Hiroko Fold, a folding electric car that can park in teeny places and turn with "zero radius." The following is from PSFK's Yi Chen:

Researchers from MIT’s Changing Places group and DENOKINN have developed a convenient and eco-friendly car to commute around the city. The Hiriko Fold is an ultra-compact vehicle that can fold upright to fit into tight parking spaces. We first wrote about Hiriko Fold earlier this year, and now it’s been confirmed that the electric car is expected go on sale in 2013 for around $16,000.

The car is able to carry two passengers and is capable of traveling up to 75 miles between charges. The vehicle would also be equipped with zero-turn radius wheels that allow it to move sideways, making parallel parking a less frustrating maneuver. Some of the Hiriko Fold models are on trial in European cities for testing, and the group believes that the compact car would be popular in cities like Berlin, San Francisco, and Barcelona.

MIT’s Tiny Foldable Electric Car Will Retail For $16,000 (via Engadget)


  1. Someone is going to “rice” the hell out of this. Maybe paint it all yellow & make it like Bumblebee in the Transformers?

      1.  Top Gear gave the Smart Car a go around the track and not even their tame racing driver could get it to behave in corners. Maybe a city car never has to negotiate a turn at more than 20 mph so it’s all good.

        ps, the music in the vid above is the worst music in the history of worst musics.

        1. The Smart FourTwo is actually a pretty decent design, with an incredibly strong frame and rear-drive. Not built very well, mind you. If Toyota or Honda had done the manufacturing, I’d buy one.

          1.  Sure it has a strong frame, because it’s so short. And that tiny wheel base is also why it handles so poorly. But if you never plan to drive around turns and corners and such, it’s great. For strictly city driving it might be just fine. Still overpriced, though.

          2.  I have a Smart ForTwo and that goddamn thing is so much fun to drive that’s it’s scary. Yes, it corners like the Battleship Yamoto, but it feels like being in a golf cart that can travel 85 mph. WEEEEEEEEEE!

        2.  I’ve driven the Smart, it is squirrelly as hell, but in a fun way. Yeah, you don’t corner fast, but to your point, neither do you do so in cities.

          It feels like you’re doing everything fast in a Smart though, fast and loose. Takes getting used to. 40mph in a Smart feels like 70 in a standard auto, so even going to the store is exciting. My mom loves hers. (that’s the one I drove)

          1.  I had a very old, very underpowered Fiat Spider 850 like that. Probably unsafe at any speed, so it was a blast to drive. Sure, it’s slow, but it’s so low to the ground, it feels fast!

      1.  But presumably that circle still has a radius..? Wouldn’t “…is capable of spinning on its central axis” be more accurate?

        1.  I think they say zero turning radius to make their point on the parallel parking thing, in that it can glide up to a spot and tuck in, no spinning.

          But if the four wheel are independently articulated, I would definitely try and program it to spin about a bit, then stop and realign the wheels, and tuck into the spot, just because.

          I think  I would do that at red lights too.

        2. “Turning radius” means “how far is the car from the center of the circle”, I think, so it could indeed be zero.  Though maybe it’s “what’s the maximum distance from the center to a part of the car”.

  2. this just goes to prove how trapped we are in the “car paradigm.”  instead of addressing the obvious:  cars are wastes of space and resources that contribute to the hardening of the operators’ arteries; our best and brightest waste all this time trying to make a “friendlier” car.  on the other hand, consumers (i.e. us) are creating the market for this, so don’t hate  the player, hate the game, I guess.

    Bikes.  Motorcycles.  Scooters.  Walking.  These all take up less space than this dorkmobile, all have approximately zero turning radius, and two of them will burn fat, not money and hydrocarbons.  Then there’s public transport (where available, I know, but even when viable, suckers act like they’re too good for it.)  Hell, bring back horses and teams of oxen, I say.  $16,000?  absurd. 

    1. Motorcycles have zero turning radius?

      Wow! I wish I’d known that all the times when I was trying to U-turn my bike…

      Reality says: Bikes have their own turning radius. For some, it’s fairly large, too.

      1.  Correct. “Zero turning radius” means it can turn inside its own footprint. People can do that.  This beastie can, due to having four steerable wheels. Bikes can do so only if you pick them up.

        Whether that *matters* in most cases is another question. If the goal is minimal parking footprint, then it definitely is a useful capability — I’ve had to park in garages where there was barely enough space to jockey a subcompact into the slot, and like the Euro version of the smartcars this — because its parked length is comparable to the width of a typical car — can fit two vehicles into a standard parking space.

        In some cities, parking is a huge issue. Cambridge, MA basically has no street parking space left; anyone putting up a new building has to plan on building a garage into it (which burns space that could be used for other things) and/or convince folks to take public transit.

        1. Oh, believe me, I know all about parking difficulties!

          It’s one of the many reasons that a REVA was so attractive, though it proved too difficult to actually buy one…

      2.  nothing has a zero turning radius at speed.  this car as well as any other vehicle will flip if it is made to spin in it’s own footprint at over, say, 10mph?  maybe 5?

        from a stop, bikes pivot on the rear wheel.  not *exactly* zero radius, hence my use of the word “approximately.”

        1/10, you got me to reply.

        1. Pivot on the rear wheel?

          Try doing that with a 100+kg motorbike. You’re not going to be doing it very often…

          Depends on the design; a motocross might have an easier time. The street machines I used to drive won’t. A sports bike or a low-slung tourer? Forget about it!

    2.  yeah, cool story bro

      I’m sure it’d be awful to replace all the SUV, trucks, sedans, etc being used by one person in a dense city. There’s like zero benefit.

      Better if we instead convince those people to get on bicycles. Like those zero turning radius ones I’ve seen, where a hipster clumsily trackstands then bunnyhops awkwardly to the right in order to parallel park their fixie outside the coffeshop, blocking the sidewalk.

      Eroding problems of the magnitude of cars is slow but still progress.

      1. the individual articulation of *this* car’s wheels that enable a zero turning radius *also* enable it to move sideways.  zero turning radius=/=sideways movement, as your bike analogy implies.  a Bobcat has a zero turning radius, but it will not move sideways.

        yes, those hipsters on bikes blocking the sidewalk are such an annoying menace.  they are different than you, so they are an object of derision.  not the other auto users.  they are normal.  they are good.  we can continue to ignore automobile deaths being the 10th highest cause of death in the US.  As long as those hipsters and their bikes get off my damn lawn.

        but anyway, go ahead and buy one, I’m not stopping you.

        1. You mean like my skidsteer? Bobcat don’t make them all, and in fact a skidsteer with no gear on the front (no plow, no fork, no bucket, no excavator) is pretty damn near square almost, and can thereby in practice place itself in a position directly sideways to itself by turning, moving forward or back, then facing the desired direction all within it’s own footprint. In practice, I have a fork or a bucket or a plow or an excavator on the front and that makes the skidsteer too long to complete such a maneuver within such constraints described.

          Making a zero radius turn on a bicycle takes more skill than I’d estimate about 95% of city cyclists, as it involves a wheelie. An approximate sort of turn still takes great skill, and is almost never seen, or useful, on a bicycle.

          When I was urban I lived car-free 100%, except renting the occasional benz to get to spots in the country that trains can’t reach.

          In my post you mistook my acknowledgment of the existence of “the other auto users” in the city as somehow lacking in derision, but it is clear now when you reread it that I deride any that use such vehicles as SUV, truck or sedan improperly, with only one occupant, when many more suitable choices are on offer. As for hipsters they deride themselves far more than I ever will do so for them. Teh minor derision you faced was based in my belief that change does not occur in the manner your posts suggests would be possible if only people gave up on automobiles as one, at once, for reasons that you probably agree with me exist.

           Sorry, I live in the country and need greater range than that vehicle provides and a greater payload capacity too. I also have my doubts as to whether it can negotiate unplowed gravel roads.

      2. The average daily high for the last week here has been 114°, so it’s air-conditioned car or stay inside. I don’t imagine that bicycles get much use in Minneapolis in February, either.

        1.  There are many benefits of an enclosed cabin, including the ability to tape up newspaper and get some privacy, as they do in Italy because so many people have to live at home with their parents due to the high cost of living.

        2. Winter bikers are not a legend.  I swear every time I see footage taken during a heavy snow in the Twin Cities, the cameraperson finds someone on a bicycle.

          1. @twitter-212575908:disqus They’re never downtown.  The last one I recall seeing was spotted in Edina.  Keep in mind that I grew up in the Twin Cities.  I’ve also seen snow mobiles flying down the street and people cross country skiing to the grocery store before the plows come through after a blizzard.  Minnesotans don’t let a little snow keep them inside.

          2. “cross-country skiing to the grocery store . . .”

            Who knew you knew my mom!

            -abs isn’t serious, she died a few years back, but if you saw an old lady cross-country skiing to the Red Owl in White Bear Lake during a snow-storm that was probably her (my mom was awesome in so many ways I can’t count them, I wish we’d gotten along better)

          3. @boingboing-872dd316eb8a432cbc63f141e2d68ded:disqus No, not WBL.  The southern burbs.  I am not one to knock on XCS, it’s the only sport I lettered in.  ;-D

            Yay, Minnesota!

          4. XC S (awesome abbrev. btw) is one hell of a good way to stay in shape.  My mom was out on the frozen lake skiing away into her late 80s.  I bet she even kept it up until 87 when the Alzheimers started to get bad, and her balance started going at the same time.

            Frankly, I credit her outdoorsy-ness (I know, not a word) for her long life and for the really great condition she was in as well.  Flying to Denver yearly for your ski-groups downhill ski-trip was something she did into her 70s.

            And hell’s yeah, Go Minnesota.  Bunch of crazy outdoors-folks with a Scandinavian social-sensibility.  How can you not love that?  (In fact one of the things I’m most proud of in my mom was her work with battered-women’s help-lines and her refusal to not march on Pride Day no matter how many of her “ladies who lunch” friends were horrified.)

            Cantankerous, kindly, fit, I love my home-state.

            -abs is afraid he currently lives in Massachusetts, he blames that on how much he loves his wife and how much she loves  being near her family (who are pretty cool too)

    3. Yes, I have blood vessels throbbing in my head driving a cab that weren’t throbbing when I did IT or factory work. Every morning I look at people driving to work with the one car per person system and they all look so unhappy.

      1.  you I like.  are you the gentleman with whom I was commiserating about the sorry state of the service industry some months back?

  3. No dice. I expect my folding car to transform into an easy-to-carry briefcase, George Jetson style.

  4. Hm. I do, in fact, mostly avoid driving.  However, I found that trying to do entirely without a car — getting an hourly rental just when public transit etc. weren’t adequate — made sense financially but because an excuse to Not Do Things because they involved spending money at that time rather than using money already spent.

    So I’ve now got a used vehicle which doesn’t get great gas mileage — but since I drive well under 3000 miles a year mileage is a somewhat smaller issue than if I was using it more. And I do occasionally use it for volunteer projects where its cargo/passenger capacity are useful; I also appreciate the cargo capacity for myself as a DIYer.

    Re that last: If I went with a hybrid or electric, what I’d really want is one with some towing capability and a cargo trailer (with its own regenerative brakes?).  That would let me haul stuff when I wanted to, while not carrying that capability around when I didn’t.  It wouldn’t address the passenger side of things, but I could sacrifice that.

    Bicycle and walking have the same issue, with more limited useful travel radii. (Though bike trailers and “granny carts” carry more cargo than a basic motorcycle does!) I like ’em, I use ’em, but they aren’t an answer to the same question.

    Public transit/taxis are not weather-limited. But taxi can be costly, and bus/train imposes schedule/connection/route constraints.  I like ’em, I use ’em, but they aren’t an answer to the same question.

    Motorcycles and scooters really aren’t foul-weather-capable, independent of other safety concerns. and have insignificant cargo capability unless you add a sidecar pod. While I respect them, they aren’t a direct replacement for an enclosed car.

    Hence the interest in something between automobile and motorcycle … which is the niche this sort of vehicle is aimed at. There’s a legitimate need which doesn’t yet have a really good solution. This toy, like the smartcar, is a step in the direction of solving it. Not perfect, but not unreasonable… and not really unreasonably priced given the alternatives.

  5. Nice concept. One last hurdle is to figure out a way to stop people on the street pointing and laughing their asses off when you drive by.

    And I thought the SmartCar was fugly…

    1.  Some of us don’t mind folks pointing and laughing — and will happily laugh ourselves to the bank on the fuel savings.

  6. $16,000 for what’s effectively a moped with a sidecar seems like a lot of money. I hate to sound like a motorcycle enthusiast (I’m not) but building a cage around it doesn’t really necessitate calling that thing a car. In many communities they call them “golf carts” and they top out, with chrome wheels, around $10,000.

  7. Blah…where’s the market for this exactly?  Yes, yes, the dense urban environment, but the question there is who in the city is buying and owning a car?  I mean isn’t that sort of the point of living in a high density area, that you don’t need a car.  And 75  miles on a charge isn’t bad, just as long as it could do 75mph as well.  But still $16k is small car territory. 

    Personally I think self driving cars with ride share capability will be the next big automotive thing.  Or perhaps electrics if someone can work out a power source that is a magnitude or better than it is now.

      1. But where is the advantage to buying this over a gas or hybrid small car, or electric?

        -It’s cheaper than a hybrid or electric, but it is also smaller.
        -It’s the same price or more as a fuel based car, but that is offset by paying for gas.
        -It folds up for easy storage, except all parking spaces are based on at least a compact size of car.

        There are a handful of scenarios where this thing makes sense, but they are probably not everyday occurrences.  If a large city took it upon itself to build the infrastructure dedicated to smaller parking spaces and chargers and basically used a Zip Car model then I could see the advantages.  But for the semi-urban person all the extra features seem a bit out of touch.

        1. I’m willing to bet you could get three of these easily into the space normally reserved for two regular cars, there’s a saving right there.

          If enough regular people buy these there are huge benefits, but also as a hire car these have obvious huge benefits, especially in places like Hawaii or New York.

    1. Well… we have a carsharing service here that uses electric Smart cars that you can pick up and park anywhere you want (as long as it’s legal to park there). Pay by the minute, no other recurring fees.

      Sounds like your future, save for the ‘self-driving’ part. I for one hope the actual future is better than what we already have. *shrug*

    2. I would not want to be in a 75mph accident in that thing. Incidentally, don’t look up ‘Smart Car accident’ while eating. And DON’T follow the links o.O

      1. Don’t look up any accident where a truck – y’know, the big thingies who transport all the stuff we consume – rear-ends a car – y’know, the small to medium big thingies which often transport only one person – at speed.

        The third car in front if often safe, though. 

        1. That’s quite true, but not all of them have relatively normal photos linking to pages with multiple pictures of a guy in more than one piece.  Just sayin’…

  8. The vehicle would also be equipped with zero-turn radius wheels that allow it to move sideways, making parallel parking a less frustrating maneuver.

    Eh? Together with the tiny size and folding ability, we’re not talking ‘less frustrating’, we’re talking ‘whee, watch this.’

  9. This is a  solution in search of a problem.

    I know that there are thriving cities in many parts of the world. But those cities also have mass transit and walkable amenities.

    In most of the US, the infrastructure is suburban. There’s no mass transit available, offices are located off the Interstate highways, you can shop for staple goods only in strip malls, etc. This is a huge problem, and the kind of zoning and infrastructure changes needed to fix the problem will take decades to implement, even with the money and political will to make those changes. No highly efficient urban vehicle will fix that.

    What I need is an alternative way to get to work at a suburban office park in a region with no light rail, and no access to the office park that doesn’t involve driving on freeways and interstates.

    1.  I agree. This is the “If you have to use a car, and you can get by with a very small one, here’s an option!” As you point out, for many places that rely on cars, they do so because there’s no alternative, and when there’s no alternative, you want a car that fully utilizes your needs.

      Still, this car could be a neat alternative for “city only” zip cars.

    2. In search of a problem, you say?

      How about, no parking spots left? It’s getting pretty bad here in inner Melbourne, for example.

      There, was that hard? Or did you just mean it doesn’t solve any of your problems?

  10. Too many people have pedestrian minds.

    Imagine a small-motorbike-technology version of this cyclecar:

    It was designed AND built in 4 weeks’ time for a holiday in Ireland (vehicles with fewer than 4 wheels travel free on the ferry).  The photo shows the larger engine added later; the original was a 2CV.

    Imagine it built with, say, a 125 cc or 250 cc v-twin diesel and motorbike technology out of recycled materials. 200mpg on used chip oil. Actual fun, and much less costly in every sense.

  11. That thing better have an app-thingie to extricate it remotely once it gets parked-in in the folded up state.  In fact, forget flying cars. I want to drive my car with an app-thingie.

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