How big is the world's smallest electric car?

By: Jamie Page Deaton

The Mitsubishi iMiEV electric car -- which is certainly diminutive in size -- is absolutely huge when compared to the world's smallest electric car.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Even though they're getting bigger, when most people think of electric cars, they think of a compact model. The Nissan Leaf, for example, is an electric car that, though it has room for five and a hatchback, is not exactly commodious. The Mitsubishi i, is only 62.4 inches (158.5 centimeters) wide [source: Mitsubishi]. Keeping an electric car small makes sense: the smaller the car is, the less it weighs, and the more range can be extracted from the battery pack.

But it is possible to take the less-is-more electric aesthetic a bit too far.


Scientists working in Switzerland and the Netherlands have created what can be called the world's smallest electric car. Don't go looking for passenger or cargo volume numbers, though. And its range probably won't be enough to get you to work and back, though it does have standard four-wheel drive.

The world's smallest electric car is actually a custom-designed molecule. That's right -- it's a car that you need a microscope to see. On the plus side, parking it is a cinch.

The molecule has a stem with four branches. It sort of looks like the letter H. Each branch rotates, acting as wheels for the car. The power for the car comes from a scanning tunneling microscope. When the tip of the microscope, which is only as big as a single atom, comes near the electric car molecule, electrons jump from the microscope to the car. As the wheels absorb the charge, they change shape in a rolling motion, causing the entire molecule to move. Each charge allows the car to go about six billionths of a meter. And, in order for the charge to work, it needs to be administered in a vacuum with a temperature of minus 446.8 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 266 degrees Celsius).

So, what's the use of this electric car? The scientists aren't sure yet. But they think it signals a new path in nanotechnology, which is the manipulation of matter at extremely small scales. While most technology starts out large and gets progressively smaller -- like how the original computers that took up entire floors of buildings turned into the smartphone that fits in your pocket -- nanotechnologists look to start small (actually, very small). By manipulating matter and creating new molecules, they hope to create new machines, proteins, organic matter and other materials. We might not be able to ride in the world's smallest electric car, but it could eventually be the basis for other technological advances.

Just don't forget where you parked it.


AutoHybrid CarsHow Electric Cars WorkAutoHybrid CarsElectric Car PicturesAutoFuel-efficient VehiclesWill I get shocked if I drive an electric car through a big puddle?AutoFuel-efficient VehiclesHow Electric Car Batteries WorkAutoHybrid CarsWhat is a potentiometer in an electric car?AutoHybrid CarsHow Electric Car Labs WorkAutoPorschePorsche Joins Electric Vehicle Race With 2020 TaycanAutoOther Makes & ModelsCould Electric Motor Conversions Save Classic Cars?AutoUnusual CarsHow the G-Wiz Electric Car WorksAutoHybrid CarsHow Electric Car Charging Networks WorkAutoHybrid TechnologyCan I buy an electric car at Sam's Club?AutoHybrid CarsIs there a way to create an all-electric car you don't have to plug in?AutoHybrid TechnologyHow Electric Car Conversion Kits WorkAutoHybrid TechnologyWhat is the history of electric cars?AutoUnusual CarsHow big is the world's smallest electric car?AutoFuel ConsumptionHow can a speed bump harvest electricity?AutoFuel-efficient VehiclesThis Woman's Job Is to Figure Out Why People Don't Buy Electric CarsAutoHybrid CarsIs an all-electric car a bad investment?AutoTypes of EnginesHow Does an Electric Water Pump Benefit Your Engine?AutoPlug-in HybridsWhat is the plug-in electric vehicle credit?AutoFuel ConsumptionIndia Plans to Switch All New Cars to Electric by 2030AutoTech and TransportShared Electric Scooters: Commuter Solution or Urban Nightmare?AutoHybrid CarsCan Electric Car Batteries Be Recycled?AutoHybrid CarsWill Electric Cars Require More Maintenance?AutoHybrid CarsChallenges Facing the Electric Car IndustryAutoHybrid CarsAre electric cars safe in accidents?AutoHybrid CarsAre Electric Cars Cheaper to Run?AutoAuto ManufacturingHow old is the electric car?AutoConcept CarsToyota's Newest Electric Concept Car Is Made of WoodAutoFuel-efficient VehiclesElectric Car Charging Goes Super FastAutoHybrid CarsElectric Cars vs. Hydrogen Fuel Cell CarsAutoHybrid CarsTop 10 Electric Car Frequently Asked QuestionsAutoHybrid CarsHow Does Horsepower Figure Into Electric Cars?AutoFuel-efficient VehiclesTesla's New Model 3 Aims Squarely at the Electric Car MainstreamAutoFuel EconomyWill all vehicles eventually be all electric?AutoTransmissions & DrivetrainGas-powered vs. Electric Cars: Which Is Faster?AutoHybrid CarsHow Long Does it Take To Charge an Electric Car?AutoHybrid CarsHow Much Does It Cost to Charge an Electric Car?AutoHybrid Cars12 Myths About Electric VehiclesAutoConcept CarsUnveiled at CES: The Electric Car Hoping to Beat Tesla at Its GameAutoFuel EconomyGas vs. Grid: Gasoline and Electricity Face OffAutoHybrid CarsCharging an Electric CarAutoHybrid CarsInside an Electric CarAutoHybrid CarsDoing a Conversion - Electric Car ConversionAutoHybrid TechnologyThe First Electric CarAutoHybrid CarsAn Electric Car ExampleAutoHybrid CarsElectric-car Motors and BatteriesAutoConcept CarsHow the Tesla Roadster Works

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Coxworth, Ben. "It's the World's Smallest Electric Car -- By a BIG Margin." Nov. 10, 2011. (Jan. 18, 2012)
  • Ingram, Antony. "Scientists Create World's Smallest Electric Car" Motor Authority. Nov. 9, 2011. (Jan. 18, 2012)
  • Palmer, Jason. "Single-Molecule 'Electric Car' Taken for Test Drive." BBC News. Nov. 9, 2011. (Jan. 18, 2012)