Bibendum 2011: Mia three-seater offers unusual VIP feel in a micro bus

Mia Micro.Bus – Click above for high-res image gallery

How much call is there for a three-seat minibus? Mia Electric is about to find out.

The company will soon start to build the Mia Micro.Bus, a unique little car that feels like the secret lovechild of a VIP limousine and something from Volkswagen's discarded concept pile. In reality, former VW chief designer Murat Günak did help develop the Mia, which was designed specifically as an urban vehicle. The car's most striking feature is, without question, the seating arrangement. The driver gets a prime spot front and center, with the two passenger seats splayed out behind him. This is because, we were told at the 2011 Michelin Challenge Bibendum in Berlin last week, 70 precedent of all urban drives are done by single occupants, with 70 percent of the remaining 30 percent made with, at most, two passengers. The triangular arrangement means that the passengers have a lot of luxurious legroom. It's quite impressive, in fact. Maximizing passenger comfort may not be how people think when they buy cars, but it makes sense on paper.

There is a small but important difference between fitting three and four people into a car. After all, four is kind of an arbitrary number, just like three. We're used to four people in a "normal" car, but you could squeeze a fourth into the Mia just as you could squeeze a fifth into your everyday sedan.

According to information on display in Berlin, there are three variations: the Mia, the Mia L and the Mia U (the Mia Electric website instead lists something called the Mia Box Van). The standard Mia uses an 8 kWh LiFePO4 (li-ion phosphate) battery pack for a 90-kilometer range and a 110 km/h top speed. The extended Mia L has a 12 kWh pack, a 130-km range and can cover 130 kilometers before needed a charge. The Mia U? Not sure.

But what's it like inside the Mia when going down the road? Well, it's got all the noisy rattles of an electric vehicle from a small company and the brakes feel a little tense and harsh. The steering works, but it's not exactly wonderful. While there is enough space up front, it doesn't feel like the driver has a bunch of extra room, except sideways. The doors open with a little push of the flowers on the frame (not on the door itself, which we couldn't figure out ourselves).

If the Mia performs well on the road, it would be a perfect car for a car-sharing service to use. This would guarantee that all the trips are urban ones. Of course, at somewhere between 19,500 and 24,500 Euros a pop (depending on model), who wants to buy a few hundred of them and leave them around town for drunks to forget to charge up? Also, the driver – when alone – can enjoy the extra shoulder space and – when you use the Mia as a tiny bus – passengers can feel like they've been upgraded to VIP passenger status. This feels like a fun car, and taxi companies and designated driver services could probably take advantage of it best. Nothing's perfect, but the Mia certainly offers a cool alternative.

We'll soon get to see what the public thinks about the Mia Micro.Bus. The company is starting production on June 1 in Cerizay, France and plans to make 4,000-6,000 vehicles this year. It already has orders for 3,000 thus far, mostly in France and Germany. In 2012, the plan calls for making 12,000 to 14,000 of them. Who's interested?

Mia Micro.Bus
Mia Micro.Bus
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Photos by Sebastian Blanco / Copyright ©2011 AOL
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The Micro.Bus.

Innovative Micro.Bus. makes e-mobility competitive
Sales to fleet customers launched, delivery starting June 2011
Three-seat vehicle, 2.87 m in length, with a central driver's seat and sliding doors
Four-seat and Box van, 3.19 m in length, with a cargo volume of 1,500 l
A range of 80 to 90 km,or 120 to 130 km depending on battery pack
Short battery charging times, and particularly low maintenance requirements.

E-mobility for everyone: Zero-emissions, handy, and affordable. This was the objective when developing the mia. The result is a quiet, spacious, emissions-free, trend-setting city automobile with competitive up front and on road costs. Production will start in June 2011, but the mia has already been available for order since early October 2010. Thus the fun, zippy little town car is one of the first all-electric production cars on the market.

The mia will be manufactured in Cerizay, France, where the German company, mia electric, acquired the electric cars division of renowned vehicle manufacturer, Heuliez. Former VW chief designer, Murat Günak, played a crucial role in the development of the automobile. "We started from a blank sheet of paper and asked ourselves again and again: What does a customer actually need to be mobile in the city? And what does he/she like?", as Murat Gunak describes the beginnings of the electric car project launched in 2007.

The answer is a car concept with central driver's seat, sliding doors, and an extremely spacious passenger compartment. It is unlike any other small production car currently on the market. The unconventional seat arrangement provides the driver with a perfect view of the city traffic, and enormous legroom for the rear passengers. Another advantage: The driver can easily get in and out of the car from both sides. The dual sliding doors, which can be opened in extremely tight spaces, are perfectly tailored to city conditions. Comfortable boarding is further facilitated by the cutouts in roof and floor. In addition, two mia models with a length of 3.19 m are also available: The four-seat mia L (with three back seats) and the mia box van. With a loading capacity of 1,500 l ,the box van is particularly suited to commercial customers.

Thanks to the light-weight design concept, the three-seat model weighs only 750 kg (box van 759 kg) including the standard 8kWh battery. This is why mia is extremely economical in its power consumption. The standard battery is capable of covering a distance of 80 to 90 km per charge and in only 3 hours the battery can be fully charged using a regular household power outlet. As an option, a more powerful 12 kWh battery is also available. The mia is fitted with a lithium iron phosphate battery, a technically sound and exceptionally safe battery system with a low risk of overheating. Short and intermittent charging times do not present any problems either, thanks to the No Memory Effect battery, a 10 minute charge is sufficient for a journey of 8 km. The power costs amount to that of about 1.50 Euro per 100 km; the three-seat mia costs 24,500 Euro. With this in mind, The mia is a favorable alternative to other conventional drive vehicles in the small car segment.

The mia electric concept includes a service team which caters for all of the mia's needs and requirement. This team answers technical questions and offers an allround service for each customer. Owing to its well-planned and practical structure, mia drivers can even carry out smaller repairs themselves together with a qualified specialist over the telephone. In addition, there is a two year guarantee on every mia and a guarantee on the battery for the first three years or for the first 50,000 kilometres. The new city automobile will be produced in large scale manufacture: The mia plant in Cerizay has been adapted to support an annual capacity of at least 12,000 units. For 2011, mia electric aims to supply 6,000 vehicles in Germany and France (with production to begin in June).

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

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