It describes itself as “the future of urban mobility”. A futuristic-looking electric tricycle with a range of 93 miles and a top speed of 50 mph Nimbus costs $10,000 and wants to position itself as a green alternative to cars, safer than motorcycles and with a high degree of ownership. We tested a prototype trike to get a sense of where the company is going.
The car I drove was an early prototype and it showed clear signs of it; the doors were difficult to close and the team had to “prepare the car” before I could get into it, making some last minute adjustments before taking the wheel. And yes, even though this is a cornering tricycle, it does have steering wheels. As an experienced motorcyclist, I felt it was very strange indeed.
This prototype unit felt a little wobbly and unstable, but I suspect that’s a problem with the car still in development. The great thing is that it is completely enclosed. you have a heater, seats, roof and windshield and wipers. The number of times I’ve ridden in the rain wishing I was just warm and dry is countless, so these are huge pluses in the “pro” column. Of course, roof scooters have been around for a long time (BMW made one back in 2000), and the Nimbus stands out as being almost incomparable to anything else on the market.
My main challenge was that when I’m on a motorcycle, the “correct” lean angle of the motorcycle depends on speed, weight (bike + rider) and how tight you turn. When driving small slaloms in the Nimbus prototype, the lean angle seemed to be “wrong”; sometimes too little, it feels like the car might roll over, and sometimes too much, again it feels like the car might flip over. I gave feedback to the team and the company’s CEO, Lihan Nong, and the company was able to resolve some of the issues I had.
“We adjusted the steering after you left, based on your comments, and it now drives much more predictably for new drivers,” Nong wrote in an email to me.
The luxury of having an early-stage prototype car is, of course, that everything can still be tweaked and updated, and it’s probably not worth judging the car on its handling characteristics after my brief test run. On top of that, I hasten to add that I’ve driven tens of thousands of miles on two and three-wheeled scooters and motorcycles, so in this case I may be a particularly picky audience.
My impression is that this machine is not intended for recovering two-wheelers, but for people who would otherwise not find out what one down, five up means. And that’s okay because that’s the vast majority of the population.
The car has a number of really smart innovations. For example, under a small “hood” at the front of the car, it has both a 220V charger, like you’d find on any electric car, and a vacuum cleaner-style mobile 110V charger. That means you have multiple options for charging the car in multiple situations.
In addition to charging the batteries inside the car, the batteries are actually portable. There are four of them, all under the driver’s seat, and the company jokingly calls them “V-4 batteries.” The ability to remove the batteries for charging elsewhere makes this vehicle a particularly interesting choice for people who don’t have a designated parking space or road where they can charge their vehicle. An added bonus on that front is that the little car is short enough to park perpendicular to the kerb, meaning you can take advantage of even the smallest parking spaces.
The car’s top speed of 50 mph is a bit off for me. For one, it means you can’t actually drive on freeways, including the bridge between San Francisco and Oakland. Now, technically the speed limit on the bridge is 50 mph, but on the way back from the Nimbus test drive I decided to actually stick to that speed limit for once in my car. Other cars were passing me left and right. I didn’t feel safe in the car sticking to the speed limit and the Nimbus is small compared to my daily driver. In short, driving over the bridge would be unsafe, and given that it’s the only easy way to get from Oakland to San Francisco, it torpedoes the car replacement company’s bid.
The small car has a rear seat where a second person can sit behind the driver with a foot on either side of them. There are seat belts to keep you in place and the car has an advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) that works to keep you safe as well.
As a six-foot-four, I’m probably on the extreme tall end of who fits in this car. With the seat (which doesn’t recline) all the way back, I barely had enough room for my knees to move between the accelerator and brake pedals. I also felt my hair hit the windshield above me, and the pillars around the doors gave me a fairly significant blind spot that, given the car’s limited dimensions, I struggled to maneuver to avoid. Given my proximity to the windshield, I dread to think what would happen if I crashed at 50 mph; My head can’t go anywhere but straight through the glass, and there won’t be enough room for me to wear a crash helmet inside the car. #TallPeopleProblems, sure, but worth paying attention to.
The test drive itself was okay, and it’s impressive how far the small manufacturer has come. The acceleration of the car was not particularly impressive. even the cheapest 125cc scooters I’ve ridden seem to pack more punch. I also didn’t get to test the car to its limits. when i hit the gas the drive belt would jump making a horrible loud screeching/clicking sound. I was afraid for a moment that I had broken the car, but it turns out that is just a quirk of the small car’s prototype status. A little disconcertingly, but more importantly, I couldn’t ride the car like I could on a motorcycle, and it was hard to gauge how well it would perform once the units started rolling off the production line.
I think the biggest challenge holding me back from pre-ordering the Nimbus is that while $10,000 is relatively cheap, it gives a cute little three-wheeler a huge and formidable competitive landscape. A big ten puts you in the same range as an an electric cargo bike with all the bells and whistlesa affordable electric motorcycle or a lot cheap used electric car. Somehow, amid that onslaught of more familiar competitors, Nimbus has to find a home and an audience.
Overall, I really want to love the Nimbus. I think vehicles like this deserve to exist in the increasingly complex landscape of micromobility. I can totally see having a fleet of them where today you can use one of the hourly rental electric scooters. There is absolutely room in the urban landscape for small cars or motorcycles with a roof. I’m very excited to see how they develop and I really hope I get the chance to drive one of the production cars.
All in all, Nimbus is definitely worth keeping an eye on as the company nears production.