Traffic congestion in Israel is on record as being the worst in the Western World, according to two reports this year by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which also upbraided the Startup Nation for having a public transportation infrastructure that is at least two decades behind many developed countries.
But even if one does manage to finally brave the gridlock to get to Tel Aviv, Israel’s business and financial hub, any resident or person who travels there on a regular basis will tell you that finding a parking spot is an exercise in futility.
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A number of proposed solutions have been put forward to try to solve the traffic jams and lack of parking, including the imposition of congestion charges, ride-sharing and car-pooling initiatives like Gett, AutoTel , parking apps, and even flying cars.
City Transformer, an automotive startup based in central Israel, has come up with its own solution – an electric city vehicle featuring a folding mechanism that allows it to be narrowed to as little as one meter wide. This feature allows the car to maneuver the city better and park more easily. In fact, four City Transformer vehicles can fit in one standard parking space, according to the company.
The Tel Aviv municipality will launch a pilot program next year that will see as many as 50 City Transformer vehicles being tested on the streets of the notoriously crowded city, City Transformer CEO and co-founder Asaf Formoza said this month.
Although the project started simply as a rough idea for a foldable car to make parking easier, City Transformer Chief Innovation Officer and co-founder Uri Meridor tells NoCamels it is now “more of a holistic solution for personal mobility in cities.” Instead of focusing only the actual folding mechanism, he explains, City Transformer now also focuses on the riding experience of the vehicle itself. “When you get into one of the City Transformers it will recognize you and adapt your experience to your preferences,” he says. This adaptation will include adjusting the settings of the vehicle and sharing personalized recommendations for music and activities in the area.
The company says it created the vehicle with autonomy in mind and that the vehicle has autonomous capabilities and will one day be able to be self-driving.
Meridor explains that City Transformer wants to bring back freedom of movement in big cities. “The car isn’t the symbol of freedom it used to be. Twenty years ago people were looking to get their licenses to have freedom and independence in cities,” Meridor says, “People aren’t looking to cars for freedom anymore, but to [phones].”
City Transformer vehicles take up the space of a regular car on the road but shrink to the size of a motorcycle to fit into narrow traffic lanes and parking spots. As the sides of the cars compress, the cockpit doesn’t actually fold, and the driver can even begin folding the vehicle as he is driving on low speed.
Using the folding mechanism the car saves up to 75 percent parking space, the company says. While total length of the vehicle is 2.35 meters (roughly 7’7″,) it reaches a width of 1.44 meters (roughly 4’7″) in driving mode and compresses to 1.0 meters (roughly 3’3″) in parking mode.
“Everything that makes the car a car is down below in the lower part, including the suspension, all the engines and all the electronics,” Eyal Cremer, the chief design officer (CDO) at City Transformer told Xinhua this month. “It means we are completely flexible in what we put on top. We can put a box for cargo, put something that is special for mail delivery…”
The company says its vehicles will soon be available for pre-order and will start delivering them to customers in 2019, with a goal of seeing one million models on the street by 2025.
According to Meridor, the company has seen some setbacks. In 2014, when City Transformer was first founded, the goal was to be on the market by 2017 and keep the price of vehicles to under the average cost for an electric car. While the expected price has since increased from $8,000 to $10,500 and their goal market date has been pushed back, the company is moving full steam ahead.
“We are not just building a car for the city, but defining the future of all city cars,” Meridor tells NoCamels.
With movement in cities increasing every day, drudging up both traffic problems and pollution issues, vehicles need to be both efficient and eco-friendly. City Transformer, for its part, says its vehicles reduce both air and noise pollution, and combined with low emissions, the efficient use of space, the potential to be fully autonomous, and the adherence to high-standard safety regulations, could make it the ideal car for city driving.
“We thought that since it’s a city car, it should also have zero emissions,” City Transformer CTO and co-founder Gideon Goldwine told NoCamels in 2014 when the car was first founded, “We decided the best choice would be to implement our technology on a light car. Not only that but unlike some electric cars, this one won’t have to contend with problems of long distances, since it’s designed to be used exclusively within the city.”
On full battery, the City Transformer vehicle will be able to drive nearly 200 km (124 miles) per ride, Formoza told Xinhua. And while the company is still finalizing its prototype, the complete model is set to have a joy stick as opposed to a steering wheel.