Peugeot BB1 – Click above for a high-res image gallery

Without a doubt, the most popular vehicle at the ride and drive portion of the Challenge Bibendum in Rio de Janiero this week was Peugeot's BB1 concept. We're not sure what aspect of the car caused the most interest, but the line to get into the undeniably quirky urban car was always long. Maybe it was just because people can't easily imagine why anyone would actually go out and build a car this bizarre. Maybe they wanted to see what happens when a scooter marries a car and has a child. Maybe it's just that when you come face-to-face with a car this unusual, you just have to try and get inside the blister top. Whatever the reasons, we had to join the throng. Read on to find out what it's like when you manage to get into the BB1 and take a spin around the parking lot.

Photos copyright ©2010 Sebastian Blanco / Weblogs, Inc.

The first thing of note is that Peugeot manages to fit seating for four into the BB1, which is amazing because the car is only 2.5 meters long. This sort of packaging requires some interesting seat arrangements, and by that we mean that the rear passengers need to put their legs around the front seats (see picture, below right, where the front seat's backis folded down). For quick jaunts around town, this is a really good idea because it helps make the automobile smaller. It's not just the compact seats that shrink the car, but the Active Wheels (aka in-wheel motors) that were developed with Michelin and each have 10 horsepower. Marc Bocqué, head of global communication for Peugeot, told AutoblogGreen:
With this, we can guarantee 90 kilometer an hour top speed, which is more than enough to use in an urban environment, and an autonomy [range] of 120 kilometers due to the use of latest-generation lithium ion batteries.

Now, what about that bizarre front window? The bubble windshield certainly catches the eye of anyone who comes anywhere near the car, but Bocqué said there is a functional reason for it, too:
One, we try to break totally all the codes which are usually used in the car industry. We tried to do a breakthrough design, and I believe this is a success. This car is certainly one of the stars of the Challenge Bibendum. It's a cute car, very beautiful and amazing to drive. As far as the internal space is concerned, the design is very important to guarantee comfort of use for four adults. [The bubble gives] a very specific and very special design to the car.
While the bubble is totally unexpected from the outside, sitting in the car it actually kind of works to counter the claustrophobic feeling the close seats create (see this photo for an example). It certainly feels big enough for four people in the city – something the current Smart Fortwo and Think City cannot claim – and we're interested to see what Peugeot does with the production version (yes, there will be a production BB1; see below). Right now, riding in the BB1 provides the occupants with you a loud and rickety experience, something to be expected from an early prototype. In fact, there are only two BB1s in existence today. The version in Rio is the second model, and is nearly identical to the first, which is in France at the Peugeot luxury showroom in Paris. These models us scooter handlebars for steering, an iPhone to help the vehicle communicate with the outside but is not part of any internal services and a rear camera.

With an all-electric, zero-emission powertrain, the BB1 does have the quick acceleration we expect of an EV, but with the small size and that limited top speed, there's no way we'd want to go very far in this thing. Still, we can see the urban potential for a car like the BB1. It has a turning radius of just seven meters, for example, which Bocqué called "outstanding performance." He also said that this car shows the way Peugeot will be able to provide the right cars for an uncertain future:
The very presence of the BB1 is interesting as a testimony of the electromobility of tomorrow and especially in a town like Rio de Janiero, one of the most populated towns of South America. I believe this car testifies of the willingness of Peugeot to bring concrete answers to the mobility of tomorrow.
Bocqué also said that when a production model makes it to market – something he confirmed is happening but would not give us a date for – it will be similar to this outlandish concept:
I can confirm we will do a car that will be like the BB1, it will have all the spirit of the BB1. There is still a lot to do to make the car very safe to use it as a normal car, and this is the main challenge we have to overcome.
So, like it or not, the BB1 is on its way. Look out.

Photos copyright ©2010 Sebastian Blanco / Weblogs, Inc.

Our travel and lodging for this media event were provided by the Michelin.

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