At 41-inches wide and 54-inches long, the Peel is the smallest production car in the world. First built for a brief period in the 1960s, the car was an expensive collectors’ item for decades until a couple of British entrepreneurs decided to bring the tiny car back–including a new electric version.
The U.K.-built car tops out at around 35 miles per hour, so it can’t go on highways. “They were built as city cars,” says Dan Goldstone, account manager for the manufacturer. “They’re tiny, easy to park, easy to drive around. As long as you’re not going hundreds of miles, you’re fine.”
Inside, the new electric version runs on an moped motor. It doesn’t need much power, thanks to its minuscule proportions and light weight. At under 300 pounds, it’s about 15 times lighter than a Tesla Model S.
In the past, it was even lighter: The 1960s version didn’t have a reverse gear, so a driver had to use a handle on the trunk to literally pick the car up and turn it around.
It’s unlikely that many of these will ever be on the road. “We want to keep it limited edition,” Goldstone says. “Like any sort of classic car that’s rare, if you start mass manufacturing it, it loses its value, it loses its tradition, its uniqueness. They’re always going to be hand built.”
But it’s possible that somewhat similar cars may eventually find mass market success. The Elio–which, like the Peel, is a small three-wheeled car–is supposed to go into production next year. And Lit Motors’ little vehicle, technically a motorcycle, looks quite a bit like the Peel; there’s just enough room for one person and a bag of groceries.
Since most people end up commuting around town by themselves, maybe that’s just the right amount of space. Cars like this could save huge amounts of energy in urban transportation.