First Drives First Tests New York Uncategorized

Nissan New Mobility Concept First Drive

Scoot Sharing: How dense would your city need to be to drive this?

Scoot Sharing: How dense would your city need to be to drive this?

With Silicon Valley icons Apple and Google contemplating entre into the car biz, the established automakers are doing their gol-dangdest to Silicon-Valleyize themselves. To wit: GM’s investment in Lyft and purchase of Cruise Automation, Ford‘s purchase of Getaround and launch of the Ford Smart Mobility LLC division, and Nissan‘s establishment of a Future Lab in San Francisco, which serves as an extension of Nissan’s global advanced planning group, in 2014.

Nissan Future Lab is tasked with studying trends in mobility and attempting to identify issues and opportunities for the company. One way it does that is by experimenting with future mobility models by establishing “living labs” in megacities. An example of this began in October when Nissan Future Labs partnered with San Fran-based Scoot Networks, an electric scooter sharing service.

Nissan adapted 10 Renault Twizy electric microcars for duty as “Scoot Quads.” In Europe the Twizy is sold in two configurations: Urban 45, which qualifies officially as a light quadricycle limited to 45 kph (28 mph) with a 4-kW motor, and Urban 80, which gets a 16-kW motor good for 80 kph (48 mph). Either version can be had as a two-passenger tandem or a cargo variant wherein the rear seating area is enclosed with a lockable 6.4-cubic-foot cargo trunk. The Scoot Quads all started out as Urban 80 or Cargo 80s but were modified to meet U.S. Neighborhood Electric Vehicle standards, primarily by installing a 25-mph (40-km/h) speed governor. They are therefore not legal to drive on highways. Parking is a breeze, with three of them fitting in a single standard space, nose or tail to the curb.

Their 6.1-kW-hr lithium-ion battery packs are good for about 40 miles (64 km) of range, and they take about 3.5 hours to fully recharge. To use a Scoot Quad, registered participants must pick up and return the vehicle to one of Scoot Network’s 14 or so Scoot Quad charging stations. Pricing is $6 USD per half hour or $80 USD per day. (For comparison, the two-wheel scooters rent for $2 USD per half hour.)

Future Lab senior manager Josh Westerhold says the partnership’s first 500 rides have taught the company a lot about how carless customers decide when to use an Uber/Lyft car—alone or as a shared ride—versus when they’d scoot or even rent a car. They’re also getting a lot of demographic data through this partnership, and they’re studying how an ownership model might look. Campus usage and planned communities are other likely outlets for a product like the Twizy/NMC/Scoot Quad. His team is also working to determine the population density threshold where vehicles like this become invaluable.

To demonstrate what it’s like to drive a tall, narrow, low-speed electric car in a dense urban environment, Nissan brought four NMC vehicles to New York during auto show week and let us dice with the cabbies, garbage trucks, and tourist buses in mid-afternoon traffic in the Times Square area of Manhattan. The doors pivot upward, which would present a sealing challenge for a weather-tight cabin, so this one is open. There’s an electrically heated windshield with a wiper, and it has a roof, of course, but the sides are mostly open. Everything, therefore, is hard plastic, vinyl, and rubber, but the controls are pretty normal, with push buttons for drive, reverse, and neutral. (You must set the hand brake for “park.”)

This allows the sound of every horn honk, pothole strike, and expletive to reach your eardrums unimpeded—ditto all the sights and smells, from halal lunch carts to diesel smog. The tidy dimensions (roughly 91 x 47 x 57 inches in L x W x H) allows the carlet to zip into partially obstructed turn lanes and around double-parked delivery trucks where normal cabs—even the tall, skinny Nissan NV200 taxis—dare not attempt to squeeze. Other peculiarities: The blinker makes sort of a tweedeet tweedeet sound, and you get another weird chirp if you’re standing still without your foot on the brake. Ride quality is pretty brittle, and a few choice Eighth Avenue potholes felt a bit jarring, but acceleration is brisk (ending way too soon at 25 mph (40 km/h)), and the brakes felt quasi-normal for a regenerative system. In all, the driving experience was that of a scaled-down normal car, which is to say nowhere near as bleeding-edge future funky as something such as the leaning tricycle Toyota i-Road concept.

Would it fly in the U.S.? Josh Westerhold needs several more months/years of study on his open-ended contract with Scoot to answer that question, but I can tell you that the population density threshold is probably way closer to that of Manhattan than it is to that of Detroit.