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Israeli ‘foldable’ electric cars to make debut as emergency response vehicles

City Transformer signs $22m deal to provide United Hatzalah with vehicles that can contract to just 1 meter wide for easy parking and maneuvering

Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Startups and Business editor and reporter.

A City Transformer CT1 vehicle with the United Hatzalah colors and logo. (Illustration - City Transformer)
A City Transformer CT1 vehicle with the United Hatzalah colors and logo. (Illustration - City Transformer)

City Transformer, the Israeli automotive company behind an electric car that can shrink in size to squeeze into parking spots, announced a new partnership with the emergency medical response organization United Hatzalah to incorporate the startup’s “foldable” urban vehicles into the organization’s fleet.

The deal would make United Hatzalah, which operates a network of trained volunteers with specially equipped motorcycle ambulances, a major client of City Transformer.

Founded in 2014, the company developed the CT-1 electric car, a 2.49-meter long (8.2 feet) and 1.4-meter wide vehicle with a patent-registered folding mechanism that can contract the wheelbase down to just one meter (39 inches) wide for easy parking or maneuvering through traffic. Inside, there is room for a driver and another adult, sitting in tandem. Alternatively, the passenger seat can take two children. The cabin does not shrink or change shape as the wheelbase narrows.

The vehicle runs up to 45 kilometers an hour (28 mph) in its narrow mode and up to 90 kph when wide. It remains a static length, and can go 100-150 kilometers (62-93 miles) on a single charge.

The company has hoped to build a “resilient, comfortable, and sustainable” solution for urban-dwellers and those looking to forgo the inconveniences of regular-sized cars, especially in dense cities.

City Transformer CEO Asaf Formoza told the Times of Israel in a phone interview Sunday that he started developing the idea of a car for the urban age after sitting in traffic for too long within Tel Aviv and becoming frustrated, and also trying a motorcycle, “but almost dying.”

“More than 4 billion people currently live in urban areas, in cities, and that will only increase in the coming years. People need vehicles for city centers, for narrow streets, for tomorrow’s world,” Formoza said from the Netherlands where the company’s leadership team was currently meeting with industrial manufacturing companies.

City Transformer’s vehicle is a modern mobility solution for the modern world, he said. “We have to ask ourselves the question: ‘Are today’s cars made for today’s cities?'”

The company says four of its CT-1s can fit into the parking space of a regular vehicle, solving a notable pain point — parking — in urban areas.

City Transformer’s CT1 vehicle can reduce its size to fit into parking spots and move easily through traffic. (City Transformer)

Last year, the CT-1 was named in the 2020 annual list of TIME magazine’s 100 Best Inventions “that are changing the way we live, work, play and think about what’s possible.”

Dov Maisel, the vice president of operations for United Hatzalah, told The Times of Israel that the organization has been closely following developments with City Transformer as the startup has worked on its innovative vehicles.

“We approached this from two angles. First, the safety of our volunteers and riders. And second, the innovation component. We invented the motorcycle ambulance, and it’s clear why — they can go through traffic easily, for example — but that limits us because not all volunteers have motorcycles licenses or want to be on a motorcycle,” said Maisel.

Having the option of a compact car that can also move more easily through traffic and doesn’t need much parking space, which is scarce in major cities like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, “brings us to the next step,” he added.

Maisel said one of the most important aspects of the agreement was the co-sharing fleet vehicle format. According to the deal, a total 1,000 City Transformer CT-1 units will be placed in various cities in Israel and will allow United Hatzalah’s network of volunteers to quickly locate one of the cars and use it to respond to medical emergencies in their vicinity.

“This can have volunteers moving more quickly… They can just locate a City Transformer car and go.”

Formoza said the vehicles give United Hatzalah “the safety of a vehicle, with the ease of movement of a motorcycle.”

City Transformer claims four of its CT-1s can fit into the parking space of a regular vehicle. (Screenshot/City Transformer)

The location, unlocking, and operation of the vehicle will be done through the app on the volunteer’s device, and the address of the emergency will be pre-entered into the vehicle’s navigation software, which will be linked to the Dispatch Center, Maisel explained.

United Hatzalah responds to about 2,000 calls a day across the country, the organization says.

Medics and security forces respond to a shooting attack along the highway outside the Dolev settlement in the central West Bank on February 6, 2020. (United Hatzalah)

The deal with City Transformer is estimated at $22 million, according to the announcement.

Maisel said the five-year deal will unfold in stages, starting in the coming year, with several trials along the way. United Hatzalah will begin with 50 City Transformer vehicles and build up to the 1,000 units as the company reaches mass production.

City Transformer said in January that it hopes to gain European certification for the CT-1 and that the first examples of the size-changing car will be on the Israeli roads in 2022-2023. Israel follows European certification standards for vehicles and the CT-1 is seeking qualification as a quadricycle, “a category that eases the company’s quick entry into the European market,” Formoza said in a statement at the time.

The first vehicles produced will be made by Germany’s Roding Automobile. Most of the future production will also be done by a third party.

“Billions of people living and working in the city will be given a new alternative of effective and green mobility: one that combines the safety and comfort benefits of driving a car, with the benefits of parking, maneuvering and the savings of using a motorcycle,” he added. “This, without the existing shortcomings of the car and motorcycle.”

Formoza estimated that the company will be making about 15,000 CT1s by 2024 and will reach full manufacturing capacity by 2025, after which private consumers will begin getting their vehicles.

City Transformer, said Formoza, is currently in talks with fleet vehicle owners as well as engineering and manufacturing companies, specifically in Europe where the company is setting its sights as the first mass market for CT-1s.

A City Transformer CT1 vehicle. (City Transformer).

In the meantime, City Transformer is in the process of raising capital for a funding round and generating “a lot of interest, great feedback, and many pre-orders,” said Formoza.

The City Transformer cars are available in white, gray, blue, and red, at a pre-order price of €12,500 ($14,500).

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