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How an electric car scheme plans to drive down social divisions

Author: Kine Nordstokka
Published Date: 23 January 2012

Originally posted in the Guardian, 17.01.2012.

By Randeep Ramesh

When José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, launches the Hiriko electrical carnext week, he aims to answer a question being asked by much of the rest of the world: after the euro, what is the continent for?

The electric vehicle, developed in Spain, aspires to transform city transport, doing for electric cars what London Boris' bikeshave done for pedal cycles. The idea is that a local authority owns a fleet of Hiriko cars and rents one to people when they need it – for a small fee. Hiriko's hi-tech, on-board computers will mean that all the cars are instantly located by a smart phone, so they can be left anywhere, and the electric batteries mean they have zero emissions.

Both London's bike scheme and Hiriko are "public mobility solutions". Both are green transport. But the big difference between them is that whereas London's project involves a £190m contract to a private company, Serco, to supply and run the scheme, the European Union will adopt Hiriko's "social purpose" model. The car will be built exclusively in the deprived areas of cities that take up the scheme. And the technology will be owned by a social enterprise, with private sector companies often getting involved for free because they view the Hiriko as a test bed for the future – while Madrid funded the Hiriko project with €15m (£13m), Spanish company Maser-Mic spent €3m of its own money on the car's "sat nav" system. Each car costs €12,500.

To read more about Hiriko, read the original article in the Guardian.