It looked like a small, futuristic Volkswagen Bug

Bringing an entirely new car to market is hard. Bringing one that would completely change the game seems like an almost insurmountable task. One such car that people excited, then it fell into obscurity.

The story comes from the NPR Cities Project, and centered around a concept being worked on at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The goal of MIT’s City Science Initiative is to find ways to develop cars that cost less, pollute less and take up less space, thus making our cities more usable. The result of their research was the development of a car called the CityCar. According to NPR, it looked like a “small, futuristic Volkswagen Bug.” 

At each wheel, there was a drive motor, braking motor and steering gear. This sounds like some concepts we’ve seen in the past, but it had one more thing—it could fold. With the wheels folded, you could fit three and a half CityCars in the same space as one conventional car. They showed the car off to the public at MIT and even had a full-scale working prototype on the road in Spain. There was even a partnership with a consortium of Spanish companies to sell the CityCar in Spain. So what happened? The car would be renamed the Hiriko, and the Spanish government pledged $16 million. Additionally, the Basque local governments brought $2.2 million to the table. As recently as 2012, the budget for Hiriko was more than $80 million Then seven officials of the Spanish consortium were brought under investigation for misuse of public after they ceased operations and laid off all of its employees in 2013. Ex Hiriko employees have even said that a model they debuted in Brussels in 2012 was held together with Velco and superglue.

But many from the consortium assert that the funds were all used for the development of the car, and that the development costs ran the company out of business. But what happened to that original MIT concept? Some had said it was located in an abandoned warehouse in Basque city of Vitoria-Gasteiz. NPR tried to track down this remaining concept but could not confirm its whereabouts. But the original creators of the CityCar are not fretting over the ill-fated company. For one, MIT has strict barriers against getting into such commercial ventures. Additionally, autonomous technology has potentially made the CityCar obsolete. According to team leader Kent Larson “[We've] moved on from a vehicle that folds to save space, to one that doesn't ever need to be parked.” City Science is still working on the car of the future, even if you don’t drive it.