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MIT City Car conceptual drawing  (Source:
MIT dreams up a rentable, stackable, all-electric car for cities

America just seems to be obsessed with large vehicles. Maybe it’s our expanding waistlines, image consciousness or our "You can't tell me what to do, so I'm gonna buy whatever I want" mentality that persuades people to transport junior in a Suburban, go grocery shopping with a Tundra CrewMax or take Fido to the get his yearly shot in an Escalade EXT.

With rising gas prices, an increasing attention to our consumption of fossil fuels, an increasing awareness of vehicle emissions and expanding city centers, many are looking for more cost effective and efficient ways of transporting people in metropolitan areas. MIT Media Lab's Smart Cities group is thinking small with a new stackable car to reduce emissions and congestion in and around city centers.

The MIT "City Car" would be an all-electric vehicle capable of carrying two passengers and their cargo. The vehicles would be located near train stations, bus terminals and airports to ferry travelers to their final destination.

"The problem with mass transit is it kind of takes you to where you want to go and at the approximate time you want to get there, but not exactly," said Ph.D. candidate Franco Vairani of MIT's school of architecture. "Sometimes you have to walk up to a mile from the last train or subway stop."

The City Car will be stackable -- the entire back end of the vehicle would rise up allowing as many as eight of the vehicles to fit into a conventional parking space. The vehicle itself would also be mechanically simple with the electric motor, steering system and suspension enclosed within the wheel hubs.

The vehicle is said to weigh between 1,000 to 1,200 pounds and will be powered by lithium-ion batteries. According to Vairani, there could also be multiple versions of the City Car to accommodate a certain city's needs. A City Car destined for use in New York City might have a less powerful battery and a lower top speed due to traffic congestion. In other cities where interstate travel is more frequent, more powerful batteries capable of propelling the City Car faster and farther could be used.

If all goes well, MIT will show a prototype of the City Car sometime next year.

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RE: so much for unbiased opinions
By noirsoft on 11/7/2007 3:31:03 PM , Rating: 1
I think that many people forget that the appeal of an SUV is not the size in and of itself, but its versatility.

Some days, I'm taking myself and several friends out to a concert. Some other days, I'm helping a friend move in a new bookcase. Several years ago, I used to haul some big music gear 50 miles each way to band practice twice a week. There is simply no way that a small car can fulfill all those tasks, so I own a 4Runner.

If someone wants to buy me a tiny car for use when I'm only driving myself, I'd be happy to use it. But, is it really more economical for me to own two cars? I certainly don't think so.

RE: so much for unbiased opinions
By Brandon Hill on 11/7/2007 4:04:53 PM , Rating: 5
Meh, my car seats five and has pretty decent cargo hold (Mazda 3s Hatch).

If I fold down the rear seats, I can transport just about anything that I could possibly need. I've transported a queen-sized bed frame/rails/headboard/footboard, 42" Plasma TVs, huge HP LaserJet printers still in the box, book cases, TV stands, desks and once a recliner.

That being said, small hatchbacks are very versatile and wagons can be equally as versatile as SUVs and far more economical -- it's just that Americans won't shake the stigma of owning a wagon (or a hatchback for that matter).

Same goes for minivans. Minivans are way more efficient at carrying people and cargo than SUVs, but we silly Americans can't be bothered with such practicality at the sake of losing our manhood or dignity ;)

RE: so much for unbiased opinions
By TomZ on 11/7/07, Rating: -1
RE: so much for unbiased opinions
By Brandon Hill on 11/7/2007 4:55:39 PM , Rating: 4
I said that everyone is entitled to their own choices. That doesn't mean that I can't add my two cents ;)

As for minivans vs SUVs, minivans have always had more maximum cargo room and versatility. Especially as a people mover. Sliding doors > swing out doors when trying to get as many people in/out at once and ease entry/exit.

Maximum cargo capacity
GMC Acadia (largest crossover available): 117 cu ft
Honda Odyssey: 147 cu ft.

RE: so much for unbiased opinions
By TomZ on 11/7/07, Rating: -1
By Brandon Hill on 11/7/2007 5:14:03 PM , Rating: 3
I didn't say it was more ethical, just easier for ferrying people and getting babies in and out ;)

Comparing the Odyssey to an Acadia is a somewhat fair fight due to pricing and fuel economy. Throw in the Escalade ESV (your 137 cu ft figure), and it's at a huge disadvantage as far as pricing and fuel economy goes.

The Suburban and Yukon XL aren't cheap either.

RE: so much for unbiased opinions
By Screwballl on 11/12/2007 3:15:50 PM , Rating: 2
try a 04 or newer Durango... the rear doors swing out to 90º rather than 60-70º like most vehicles. This makes it much easier getting kids out of the back.
The reason we did not go for the minivan was the same as my original post, my height and long legs. Even with the seat all the way back I still felt cramped in the minivans.
In my case the SUV works out better.

RE: so much for unbiased opinions
By pauldovi on 11/7/2007 8:30:08 PM , Rating: 2
You don't live in the south!

Everyone down here has a minivan.

RE: so much for unbiased opinions
By emoser96 on 11/8/2007 2:31:22 PM , Rating: 2
You must not live in the "Deep South." Here everyone owns a truck (preferably American made), and, if you want it to be a SUV (or minivan), you just pile in a bunch of people in the bed.

By baseball43v3r on 11/11/2007 3:07:57 PM , Rating: 2
no, everyone in the south has 2 cars that dont work and a ride-on lawn mower sitting in their front yard.

RE: so much for unbiased opinions
By masher2 on 11/8/07, Rating: -1
RE: so much for unbiased opinions
By clovell on 11/8/2007 2:28:00 PM , Rating: 1
> "And your mistake lies in thinking what you possibly need is identical to what everyone else may possibly need."

I don't think that's what he was getting at at all.

> "First of all, wagons are not "far more economical". Look at the MPG figures for modern station wagons of the same size and weight as an SUV. They're usually a couple more MPG better-- that's it. In fact, the "crossover" car category is just this. Its a slightly taller station wagon, built on a car chassis, rather than a truck platform."

Looking at the Fuel Efficiency of SUVs vs. that of Wagons and controlling for size and weight doesn't seem very fair as weight and size are highly correlated with fuel efficiency.

> "Second of all, wagons are not "equally as versatile", especially for anyone who occasionally needs to tow something, or travel on rough roads."

Of course. And, for someone who does that - they should buy an SUV or something that handles those cases well. But, I think what Brandon is getting at is that you can do a lot more than you think with a small wagon.

RE: so much for unbiased opinions
By Rovemelt on 11/10/2007 10:22:26 AM , Rating: 3
Second of all, wagons are not "equally as versatile", especially for anyone who occasionally needs to tow something, or travel on rough roads.

I've lived in rural parts of the country where the roads can get real, real bad. Yet I got through them with a simple front wheel drive POS compact car. Driving skill is equally important to passing a road as the vehicle itself. And if the ruts are two foot deep with mud, your run-of-the-mill SUV won't get through it either. Many modern SUV's have rather lousy clearance which makes them perform similarly to 4wd wagons in those situations.

I put a hitch on my compact car and can haul a trailer. Mind you, I'm not hauling a horse trailer or a boat up hills, but I can haul 1000lbs. You just have to go slower (which you should do anyway for safety when hauling something heavy.) I've driven some compact 4 wheel drive cars that handle the snow just as well as an SUV, but with twice the fuel efficiency. Most people I've seen who own SUV's simply don't need them for the type of driving they do. For the bulk of the driving that is done in the US, a good wagon is just as versatile as an SUV.

RE: so much for unbiased opinions
By mindless1 on 11/11/2007 6:32:19 PM , Rating: 2
Your distinctions seem quite arbitrary, an SUV obviously does better than a car in many scenarios. Given a need you have better tire options on SUV and many do have more ground clearance as well as more suspension travel. You seem to imply it would be only a little bit of snow versus 2 feet of mud. Hardly a reasonable contrast as there are in fact many if not most places where the mud is less than 2 feet deep and the snow is more than 6" from time to time, if there is mud and snow at all.

It's not necessarily the case that 100% of a trip is so bad the SUV is needed, it's that one bend in a snowy road or washout at a creek that you have to cross. That doesn't mean everyone needs an SUV, certainly many people don't, they use it like a van on easily traveled roads.

Sometimes the only reason someone in a FWD or AWD car can drive down a bad road is because those in SUVs already did, their tires plowing out a path.

By hashish2020 on 11/12/2007 5:31:18 PM , Rating: 3
"They're usually a couple more MPG better-- that's it."

Add a couple MPG to 12 MPG and you have a 25% increase---

Oh, just 25% more efficient, THAT'S IT

And that is referring to MINIVANS, which average about 20, as compared to SUV's, which are around 15.

Station wagons raise that up from 20 to up near 25.

"Second of all, wagons are not "equally as versatile", especially for anyone who occasionally needs to tow something, or travel on rough roads."

Right, because those Subaru station wagons are so miserabel getting beaten up on rally races. I've traveled on rough roads with a 93 Maxima...roads that were nothing more than trails

Most of the people who defend SUV's are much like you---pussies who think riding high gives them some sort of defense against small gravel

I mean honestly, the SUV's most people buy now don't even have full time 4WD, and even THEN, the worst roads they go on are gravel.

RE: so much for unbiased opinions
By FITCamaro on 11/8/2007 9:39:56 AM , Rating: 2
For me it comes down to buy what you need. While yes you might actually use your SUV for things. Many people don't. Me personally, I'm not looking to be the driving bitch for all my friends so we can all go in one car. I buy the car I like and if people can't ride with me, tough.

To me if you often tow or transport a lot of things, a SUV is a justifiable purchase. If you are a single 25 year old guy, who bought it so you can look "gangsta" by putting giant spinner rims and 3000W of sound equipment in it, or to "look like a man", a SUV is not a justifiable purchase. If you have one kid and claim you need it to fit all your stuff in, you're full of it. A Vue or other smaller SUV will work fine.

I work with people who drive big SUVs. While I have no malice toward them, with gas prices where they are, I wonder why the hell they'd want to drive one. Sure many of the guys have boats. But get a truck. It's going to at least get a little better mileage.

And the point of a "luxury SUV" is just retarded. An SUV is supposed to haul crap. Not just look pretty and show off how much money you have. To me an SUV is a Tahoe or an Expedition. Simple, powerful. Almost no one with an Escalade is ever going to get theirs dirty.

As far as the topic at hand, you'd have to put a gun to my head to get me in one of those. Something other than one of those hits you, you're dead.

RE: so much for unbiased opinions
By masher2 on 11/8/2007 11:10:49 AM , Rating: 4
> "As far as the topic at hand, you'd have to put a gun to my head to get me in one of those."

I'd be more interested in seeing how you get your car out of its parking slot, when four more are folder in front and in back of it.

RE: so much for unbiased opinions
By Rovemelt on 11/10/2007 10:05:27 AM , Rating: 3
I believe the idea is that the cars are essentially rented per use. So you simply take the empty car nearest to you and rent it per hour and then park it in an approved spot when you're done renting. There are car-share programs in some cities around the country where you use your cell phone to rent one of many rental cars parked around the city. For people living in very densely populated areas where having your own parking space is impossibly expensive, something like this makes real sense. From what I've read, it seems like the car sharing businesses in the US are thriving.

RE: so much for unbiased opinions
By mindless1 on 11/11/2007 6:44:36 PM , Rating: 2
I agree, it would seem they're thinking everyone is going to swap cars with rental kiosks but the problem with this is there's no mention of a check-in inspection between one person and the next using the car, so there's less accountability for damage or just making a mess with food or whatnot, then leaving that mess behind.

As for parking, getting out of a stack is not a problem as per the linked MIT page,

These "electric robot wheels" as they are called, would allow the City Car to be collapsible, stackable, and spin on a dime for sideways movement and easier parking, according to Lark. "So you really treat this like a Lego brick you snap onto a cabin," said Lark.

"The whole principle [of censorship] is wrong. It's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't have steak." -- Robert Heinlein

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