I drove the new Ford Neighbor on the streets of Grosse Pointe, near Detroit -- a busier neighborhood than isolated Bay Harbor. The streets I was driving had a 25-mph speed limit, but even the slow local traffic quickly piled up behind me, and the open sides that in other settings make for front-porch-style conversation left me feeling exposed. Still, after a couple of trips to the supermarket I was convinced that the Neighbor is quiet, convenient, and more fun than borrowing a shopping cart to lug my groceries home. I was basically sold, but ready for some modifications. More power, to start.
Which is where Ford proposes the next logical escalation. Its City car is less than 10 feet long, but the prototype includes enough structure to meet most current crash standards. The model going on sale next year will be fully certified as a passenger car. A "real" car, more or less, if you're willing to ignore the speed limitation of 55 mph and to embrace the image of a giant Christmas tree ornament on wheels.
The City isn't made of metal, like most ordinary cars. To make the body, heated thermoplastic is injected into a hollow, rotating mold. As it cools, the plastic hardens into shape, and then the windows and doors are cut away. This is how plastic canoes and kayaks are made, and it's a cheap way to create strong, hollow shapes. The car that results is tough, flexible, and impact-resistant. Its surface isn't smooth and shiny the way steel is; instead, City cars have a dull, soft finish that a cat could claw scratches into. And it lets in sunlight, which accounts for the eerie glow from the backseat.
The City is surprisingly at home in urban traffic. I drove it about 70 miles during rush hour, bypassing the expressways but easily keeping up with a 45-mph speed limit. The car's rounded, egg-like shape is almost as tall as it is long, putting you nearly eye-to-eye with surrounding traffic, and the windows are shoulder-high. Those design features helped lull me into feeling comfortable, even alongside an SUV at a traffic light. Acceleration was modest, but the high torque at startup quickly kicks you across the average intersection. Only when a full-blown 18-wheeler was snarling in the rearview mirror, reminding me of the Tyrannosaurus that chased the Explorer in Jurassic Park, did the City's small size begin to shrivel the psyche.
The City's prospects are not encouraging, given the history of the electric car. The search for a battery capable of the range and speed of a gasoline engine so far has proved fruitless, and consumer interest in all-electric propulsion seems virtually nonexistent. In 1996, GM staged a multibillion-dollar launch of its EV1 electric cars; three years later, with fewer than a thousand leased, the project was scrapped. So how does Ford expect to make the City car, which is a lot like its predecessors, profitable? The makers of the City, which has a nickel cadmium battery pack that delivers about 50 real-world miles of driving between charges, hope they can get people to simply accept the battery's limitations -- and live with them.
For years I'd have been prepared to drive a milk float if it meant no CO2. Why can't we have mini electric rechargeables, now, available everywhere - even as a second vehicle. Many drivers like us do many short local journeys with cold engines. I nearly bought a G Wiz and then discovered I'd have to trail it 150 miles to London (UK) to get it serviced.
I have nothing aganst small(tiny) cars; but why not make a car that can hold 5 people (average family in u.s.).
Make True Hybrids; full powered electric with a small generator to charge battries and run accessories like A/C,
Heaters headlights at night.
Put in an air scoop and use a small wind turbin generator.
Americans are too fat to fit in these tiny cars, and too ignorant to care about the environment. I'm sure they will do well in other countries where people are more intelligent and environmentally conscious.