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Singapore may see electric ‘microcars’ for rent by 2021

The proposed service promises to streamline public transportation, but infrastructure for EVs needs to be developed too.

A render of QIQ Pod vehicles. Courtesy of QIQ Pods. A render of QIQ Pod vehicles. Courtesy of QIQ Pods.

Instead of walking home, you might be able to shuttle to your HDB block in an electric car by 2021. Singapore startup QIQ Global has shared its plans to launch electric microcars for rent.

Called the QIQ Pods, they are only 2.4 meters long and 1 meter wide. At present, the firm runs e-bike and e-scooter services in Hanoi.

According to co-founder and CEO Justin Sim, the QIQ Pods were designed to solve “inefficiency” in the public transport network. He added that the business model is similar to electric car-sharing startup BlueSG.

Rental fees for a QIQ Pod will be about SGD 2 for a ride lasting 30 minutes. For long-term use, it costs SGD 30–50 per month for multiple rides a day. The rates sound relatively competitive, in comparison with other transportation services like Grab and BlueSG. Grab rides cost upwards of SGD 15 for 30-minute rides.

BlueSG, Singapore’s first electric car-sharing service, subsists on a monthly subscription fee, which costs about SGD 15 for a 30-minute ride—this is much more expensive than QIQ Pods.

QIQ Pods can also autonomously park themselves at the nearest charging stations. Riders simply have to leave their cars by the curb.

Geofencing, which uses GPS or radio frequency identification technology, will be used to create a virtual boundary that confines the QIQ Pods to short trips.

The QIQ Pod “microcar” would offer cheap, personalized transportation if it receives approval to run on Singapore’s roads. Screenshot from QIQ Global’s website.

Still seeking approval from LTA

The QIQ Pod has yet to be approved by the Land Transport Authority (LTA), but Sim remains confident that the microcars will obtain approval.

Each vehicle weighs no more than 250 kg and has a top speed of only 40 km/h. That’s a lot lighter and slower than the two-seat microcar Renault Twizy, which failed to gain approval for use in Singapore in 2014.

At the moment, Sim plans to roll out 300 to 600 microcars in Punggol. QIQ Pods will be distributed to the requisite locations via a method called platooning, which involves a human-driven car leading a convoy of microcars through wireless communication.

During off-peak hours, QIQ Pods will also be maximized for efficiency and used to make deliveries. The microcars can also be potentially used for logistics and other purposes, costing upwards of SGD 180 in rental fees per month.

Still, the QIQ Pods may be subject to the same shortcomings as services like BlueSG. Simply put, there may not be enough charging ports in Singapore to support fleets of electric vehicles.

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Can QIQ Pods avoid the same fate as bike rentals?

Given the unique nature of QIQ Pods, it’s worth questioning whether they ought to be classified as vehicles, or something closer to scooters or bicycles.

There’s a high possibility that the slow-moving, short-distance nature of these vehicles may cause congestion in crowded urban areas. Underdeveloped portions of Singapore, however, may stand to benefit.

Unlike the failed bike and scooter rental businesses launched in Singapore, QIQ Pods’ autonomous driving features should also be able to sidestep the “supermarket trolley” problem. This refers to the littering of thoughtlessly discarded, poorly parked vehicles in public areas. There is no need to incentivize returns to charging stations if the vehicles can charge themselves.

Using a QIQ Pod would also certainly avoid the dreaded inconvenience of finding parking spaces in overcrowded cities.

If QIQ manages to break even, this new electric vehicle model may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for many commuters.

This article was originally published in Vulcan Post.