Electric cars get their city socks on

THIS year will belong to zero emission cars, particularly the electric vehicle. A bunch of small city cars are coming to market with nine of them officially recognised by the government’s incentive grant scheme. And with city populations increasing, even the most cynical of car drivers must at least concede that this could be a good thing.

According to recent research by BMW, more than half of the world’s population became urban dwellers rather than living in rural areas three years ago (in 2007). They also estimate that by 2050, 70 percent of people on the planet will live in towns and cities.

To begin with, cars like the Mitsubishi iMiEV (£23,990, including a £5,000 government subsidy), the smart fortwo electric drive, the Peugeot iON and Citroen CZero, and the Nissan Leaf (not cheap at £23,990, including the £5,000 subsidy) and Tata Vista EV, and later, in 2012, the Toyota Prius Plug-in, Vauxhall Ampera, and Chevrolet Volt (around £25,000) will mostly look like conventional cars, albeit powered by alternative super clean motors.

But there’s a subsequent wave of clean, green city cars that should be even better and will look quite different. Unlike the first wave of these cars, the next generation will be more clean sheet in terms of their design so they’ll be more innovative from the tyres up. Rather than having to share existing parts with their conventionally powered siblings, these cars should be even more efficient as a result.

Gordon Murray Design’s T.25 city car project may yet be “a bigger step forward in vehicle packaging than the Mini was in 1959”, according to its designer Gordon Murray, famous for his work on the iconic McLaren F1. Still in development and shrouded in secrecy, it’s already one of the most anticipated cars in decades. Called the T.25 (forecast to be available for as little as £6,000), the tiny car should be fun, low-cost and green and will be hugely influential. Its T.27 sibling (forecast to start at £12,000) – an identical electric version – is already in development as well.

The T.25 and T.27 will be shorter and narrower than competitor vehicles yet offer more versatility in terms of their use of interior space. What’s more, these cars will be built in a whole new way, using plastic body panels so that, in theory, it will be possible to introduce different types of body styles easily and cheaply on the production line. The weight advantage of using plastic, in combination with other lightweight materials, will mean far greater fuel economy, as much as 80 miles to the gallon on the combustion-engined powered T.25, and greater range for the electric T.27 too.

Not to be outdone, BMW is creating a new EV brand. Its Megacity car – which should arrive in 2013 – is another example of this second wave of EVs that will be built differently in order to optimise performance.

Constructed from carbon-fibre reinforced plastic and aluminium, the Megacity should be cheaper to build too as it will be made of fewer parts. BMW will target wealthy car buyers who want a premium car but a vehicle that is sustainable and seen to be cool and cutting edge.

Such innovation should mean the next generation of city cars – electric or otherwise – should be a more innovative and more exciting to look at and to drive. They may even be cool. Which will mean they’ll be a far more enticing proposition for City drivers. Of which there may well be many, if the predictions are anything to go by.