In both the natural and man-made world, there is nothing that draws and engages us better than the exotic and the quirky.

To illustrate, in Chennai, the migratory-bird season is drawing its last chirp, much earlier than usual, thanks to a miserly monsoon. However, a wetland near my neck of the woods, though dried-up considerably, sparked a flicker of interest, over the last couple of weeks. Passers-by would stop for a look-in. The reason was a sudden appearance of a huge flock of pied avocets with their curiously-recurved bills.

At grand international auto shows, prototypes do something similar: With their attention-grabbing ‘recurved’ offerings, they draw ‘passers-by’, so to speak. If these unusual-looking prototypes provoke a debate about the issues of urban mobility, which include the problem of pollution, the safety of young road users and the ubiquitous civic question of parking, they are likely to make great copy for the wider media, much beyond the automotive press corps.

Watching the images emerging from the ongoing Geneva Motor Show, I was particularly drawn to the curiously-designed, really-tiny, two-seater ‘Ami One’ from the shopfloor of Citroen, because it enabled me to revisit these issues.

It is electric, and so, slots neatly into ‘the car of the future’ narrative. The Ami One is aimed at testing only European waters. It is however part of a category of vehicles that is beginning to interest Indians — the electric quadricycle. Last year, the Indian Government created the quadricycle vehicle category for personal and commercial transport. It includes electric and hybrid quadricycles.

The Ami One looks as fetching as a fluffy, four-weeks-old German Shepherd puppy. And whenever I see a nice-looking car that I may want to drive, I would mentally transport it to an environ that I am all too familiar with. The thinking is: ‘Will this dream machine fit in with the immutable reality that would be waiting for me and the machine in the world I live in?’

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I live in the heart of Chennai’s software industry, and I am trying to figure out how an Ami One would fare there. This place makes a perfect ‘test track’, simply because it represents most regions in urban India. Here, there is a form of linear, ribbon development along a turnpike that is often referred to as the IT Expressway. However, behind this wide road lined with imposing IT buildings, there are many lanes, extremely narrow, providing access to interior neighbourhoods.

With unauthorised parking on both sides, some of these may not allow even an Ami One to go freely. That leads me to think about the Solo, an unusual electric vehicle, actually a cycle car, made by Electra Meccanica, and currently being sold in some parts of the United States. As the name suggests, the solo is about going it alone, and it’s my guess that this single-seater car may be a bit more comfortable negotiating these tight spaces.

With two wheels in the front and one in the rear, much of Solo’s width comes from the front (52 inches there). With a tapering rear, it is better equipped to turn and wriggle out of tight corners. However, being realistic, one-seater and two-seater micro-mini cars such as these are not exactly wired to make straight the crooked paths birthed by improper urban planning in India, without adding a new problem to the ones they seek to solve. They will just end up unnecessarily adding to the volume of vehicles on our roads. In the future, the cause of green urban mobility will be served well, if a majority of car-owning households in India have just one small four-seater electric car for the entire family, ideally a four-seater quadricycle. Their ‘second car’ should be the Metro or any other mass transit system, assuming that in the future, our cities will be marked by greater connectivity through an integration of such transport systems.

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I can sense some of you screaming ‘never-never land’. And you just may be right. But then, when you are looking for great change, you have to set your sights firmly on Utopia, so that you end up at a half-way mark towards it.



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