Neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) have won over the more passionate electric car fanatics, but for many drivers they seem impractical, unsafe, and somewhat less-than-thrilling to drive. But a growing number of automakers, including General Motors (s GM) subsidiary Vauxhall, Ford (s F), Norway’s Think Global, Toyota (s TM), Daimler (s DAI) and others are developing “subcompact” (tiny) electric vehicles that, with four wheels and enough power in many cases for highway speeds, won’t look or drive like your granddaddy’s golf cart.
While the upcoming generation of electric mini and micro cars could take some major strides beyond the current NEVs, they have more than a few hurdles standing in the way of mass-market adoption. Subcompacts appeal to city drivers with short commutes and limited parking — the same drivers who are less likely to have a garage where they can plug in and charge up at night than their suburban counterparts. Of course, there’s no way you’ll fit a family of five or a bicycle in these models. And while smaller cars don’t statistically put drivers at greater overall risk on the road, as the Wall Street Journal notes, they face questions about how safe they are on highways swarming with SUVs. A recent study found small, lightweight cars such as the Smart Fortwo and Toyota Yaris faired poorly in head-on collisions with heavier midsize vehicles, as this video from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety explains.
Automakers are betting big on these next-generation little cars — here are six slated to hit U.S. or European roads in the next few years (though several of these are planned for limited regional rollouts). How likely are you to buy one if you have the chance?
Daimler Smart Fortwo EV: Daimler aims to give the electric version of the Fortwo enough power to reach 37 mph in 5.7 seconds and have a top speed of 70 mph. A fully charged battery is supposed to give a 150-mile range.
BMW Mini-E: The 573-pound battery pack, which sits where the backseat would usually be, is supposed to get a full charge in eight hours with a conventional wall socket, or three hours at high voltage, and deliver an all-electric range of 156 miles. As Wired notes, BMW aims for the model to do zero to 60 in 8.5 seconds and have a max speed of 95 mph.
Think City: Norway’s Think says this two-seater (plus two kid-sized rear seats available as an optional extra) will have a top speed of 62 mph, a range of 111 miles on a full charge, and be able to reach 50 mph in 16 seconds.
Toyota FT-EV: Revealed in concept form at the Detroit Auto Show this year, the FT-EV is based on the Toyota iQ city car now sold in Japan. The company is aiming for a 50-mile electric range.
Mitsubishi iMiEV: This four-seater’s battery is slated to charge in seven hours with a 100-volt power supply, delivering a 100-mile range.
Vauxhall Trixx: Using the Voltec drivetrain developed for the Chevy Volt, GM’s European arm, Vauxhall Motors UK, aims to launch an all-electric version of its Trixx concept as a “3-plus-1 seater” with a 90-mile range. According to Auto Express, the battery pack alone could cost upwards of $12,000 to make.
Photos courtesy the automakers