Lit Motors: C-1 due in 2014

Seeing the Lit C-1 driving towards you, nothing seems particularly unusual.  At first glance it looks no more than a slightly more stylish interpretation of a Carver or Monotracer, a bike-type vehicle with an enclosed passenger cockpit. But then, as it reaches you, a strange thing happens. It stops. And it doesn’t fall over. It just sits there, humming quietly and defying gravity.

These ever so slightly unconvincing 'Tokyo' renderings are the latest images from Lit, and the C-1 clearly looks more production-spec than it does in the earlier renderings below. Note the disc-brakes and headlight cluster.

The C-1 is the brainchild of Danny Kim, an American car aficionado and entrepreneur. Kim is the founder, President, and Chief Technology Officer of Lit Motors, a sustainable vehicle company based in San Francisco. It's difficult not to be swayed (no pun intended) by Kim's infectious enthusiasm.

Following graduation with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Industrial Design and Sustainable Transportation, Kim spent two years as a Land Rover mechanic and then took a year travelling, covering 108 cities, 28 countries, and four continents. On his return home in 2003 he founded a sustainable car company, initially working on SUVs, more than halving their fuel consumption, before moving on to titanium bikes and electric scooters. His current projects are an innovative Cargo Scooter designed to carry large boxes between the passenger and the handlebars, and of course the C-1.

The C-1 is, in Kim's words, 'the future of personal transportation.' Two major factors set it completely apart from any vehicles of a similar form factor. Firstly, it's electric. Secondly, and crucially, it is a fully-enclosed two-seat, two-wheeler with no external stability aids.

The ‘magic’ of the C-1 is achieved thanks to two high speed gyroscopes beneath the driver and passenger seats generating over 1300lb·ft of torque. A computer regulates their tilt and speed which varies force, and the direction of that force, to remarkable levels thus maintaining the C-1 in an upright position. As well as having successfully driven their working prototype, Lit have further demonstrated its stability by attaching a trailer strap through the rear wheel and dragging the C-1 violently sideways a couple of feet with a Land Rover. It maintains its composure amazingly well, tilting just a little, then settling gracefully back to vertical within a second or so. In fact, they are confident that the C-1 will remain standing even after a lateral collision with another vehicle, being light and stable enough to skate across the tarmac. Upright.

Lit publicise the C-1 as a 'Rolling Smartphone'. Its full cloud connectivity gives it H2V (Home to Vehicle) V2V (Vehicle to vehicle) and V2I (Vehicle to infrastructure) communication allowing, amongst other things, the ability to remotely control various states of the vehicle including charging and, when driving, to receive information regarding traffic, road works or weather for example. It also has H2C, which is probably great, although I have no idea what it is. Any suggestions?

Performance is impressive. Two 20kW in-hub direct driven motors push the C-1 to 60mph in between six and eight seconds continuing up to a maximum speed of 120mph. The range is between 150 and 220 miles and charging would be likely to take between two and three hours on a 240V supply. For reference, Agility’s insectoid Saietta manages around 70 miles of urban/rural riding before needing a trip to the mains.

Scandinavian design influences the attractive exterior with smooth curves, substantial looking doors and large areas of glass. In fact, the main body is distinctly car-like in execution. The design centres around the equatorial waist-line and the swooping rocker panel, intended to highlight the C-1’s gyroscopic properties. The wheel hubs are illuminated in fluorescent blue to emphasise the hub motors: this will certainly be an eye-catching feature, particularly at night.

Moving inside the C-1, the interior has been designed with a ‘human-centred approach’ based on extensive mock-ups and user studies. The driving position is exactly like a conventional car. In front of you are a steering wheel and three digital instrument pods. In the centre of the wheel is a touch-screen display which takes care of all the ‘smartphone’ capability. Seating is a 1+1 configuration with the comfort of the back seat limited only to short city trips.  Lit are yet to release images of the C-1’s final interior design but, given the advanced stage of the exterior design, we shouldn’t have to wait too long until all is revealed.

One obvious concern is how the C-1 would cope in the case of a total power failure, but one would expect it to have a failover system allowing the driver to bring it to a halt before the self-ejecting parking stands were deployed.

The C-1 is expected to cost $24,000 (approximately £15,000) at launch in late 2014 although this can be reduced to just under $20,000 (£12,500) after government incentives. In the second phase of production this price is expected to fall to $16,000 (£10,000) before discount.

The C-1 shares a seating plan similar to that of Renault's hit-EV, the Twizy

The C-1 is primarily being aimed at motorcyclists in the 17-35 age bracket, however it is likely to attract a wide range of motorists due to its considerable safety increases over a bike and the fact it will be far more like a car to drive. In many ways it’s the best of both worlds: an extremely narrow, light and economical car which can be manoeuvred through city traffic, or a weather-proof and luxurious bike with added visibility to other drivers and increased driver/passenger protection.

Current legislation suggests that drivers (or should that be riders) would need a motorcycle licence to use the C-1, although presumably the test itself could be taken in a C-1.

I have never been a motorcyclist nor do I particularly have the desire to be one in future, but I would have no hesitation in driving the C-1. With its car-like seating position and the removal of all the drawbacks of riding, it’s really a very attractive option. The future of personal transportation? It could just be.

Electronic gyroscopes are set deep down in the C-1's chassis to maximize stability

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