A car that can adjust its size according to need, and shrink self-effacingly when you’ve reached your destination, has long been a futuristic dream for those frustrated by clogged streets and minimal parking options. But an Israeli startup is attempting to make that dream a reality.
City Transformer, based in the central Israel moshav of Kfar Netter, is seeking to ease traffic jams by creating a car that can constrict or expand according to need. The vehicle it is developing has four wheels and a chassis that can expand from 1 meter (3 feet 3 inches) to 1.44 meters in width, transforming itself from a motorbike-like vehicle to a more stable small car and vice versa.
The concept of cars “doesn’t work” for cities anymore, said co-founder and chief innovation officer Udi Meridor in an interview with The Times of Israel. “A car is a 1.5-ton vehicle used by just one person. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Four City Transformer vehicles could fit in one standard-sized parking space if lined up perpendicular to the sidewalk, according to Meridor.
Because of traffic and parking difficulties, many drivers prefer to leave their cars at home, jealously guarding their parking spots, and take taxis instead.
“Millennials also don’t use cars” as much as young adults did in the past, he said. Whereas once a car was a symbol of freedom for those hitting 16-18 years of age, today fewer and fewer big city millennials are getting their driving licenses.
Indeed, in the US in 2014, just over three in four people aged 20-24 held a driver’s license, according to a report by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. The 76.7% figure continued an ongoing decline from 79.7% in 2011, 82% in 2008 and 91.8% in 1983, according to the report.
“Cities need something different” for transportation, said Meridor. “Ours is a combination between a car and a motorbike. The only way to ease the infrastructure and have a greener environment is through the use of smaller cars.”
In City Transformer’s four-wheel vehicle, the bottom platform — the chassis — is foldable and can widen or narrow according to need, while the cabin remains unchanged in size. When the platform is open the vehicle offers the stability and driving experience of a small car, said Meridor. It has a roof and sides, and there is room for a passenger in the back. It comes equipped with air bags and air conditioning and other car comforts.
In its narrow form — initially just for parking, but in later stages to be used while driving as well — the vehicle is the size of a motorbike, but with four wheels, Meridor said.
The vehicle runs up to 45 kilometers an hour (28 mph) in its narrow mode and up to 90 kph when wide. It remains an static 2.35 meters in length, and can go 100-150 kilometers on a single charge.
“I compare my vehicle to other solutions like an e-scooter, or a motorbike or other small electric cars, like Daimler’s Smart Car for example,” he said. Indeed, one of the fathers of the “Smart” city car, Prof. Johann Tomforde, serves as a consultant and design supervisor for City Transformer.
The firm, set up in 2014 by Meridor and Asaf Formoza, the CEO, is now seeking to raise $10 million in funds to build a prototype. The startup is planning to assemble the first 10 vehicles for a pilot in Tel Aviv, hopefully within a year, he said.
The car will more affordable than a normal small car, said Meridor, at around $10,000. “We want the vehicle to be cheap both to buy and to maintain. It will be more like a gadget, not expensive and environmentally friendly. The idea is to upgrade the gadget with new features along the way, and not buy a new vehicle every few years.”
Besides the product itself, City Transformer is seeking to create a whole community around the cars, aiming in the future to personalize the design according to the buyer’s preferences; if a design is successful and other users are interested in it, then the amateur designer will get paid for the idea, said Meridor. The company also wants to allow for car-sharing when drivers are abroad.
Europe and Israel will be the first two markets for the vehicles, followed later by the US and Asia. The company has applied for the designation of quadricycle in Europe, and is working to get the necessary permits. Renault’s Twizy is the only quadricycle on the road today, he said.
City Transformer has patented its folding technology and sees autonomous cars as part of its future as well. “An autonomous car will be the second phase” of development of the vehicle, he said. The company is also closely working with startups to adapt and adopt new technologies for its vehicle, “so our product will very much be up to date.”