Primary impressions of the Nimbus 3-wheeled urban transport pod

It describes itself as “the future of urban mobility”.  With a 93-mile range and a top speed of 50 mph, the futuristic-looking electric three-wheeler from Nimbus is priced at $10,000-ish and aims to position itself as a green alternative to cars, safer than motorcycles, and with a higher level of ease of ownership.  The devices began out rolling off the manufacturing line.

The vehicle I drove was an early model and it showed obvious signs;  The doors were difficult to close, and the team had to “prepare the vehicle” before I stepped inside, making some last-minute adjustments before I took the steering wheel.  And yes, even though it’s a cornering three-wheeler, it has a steering wheel.  As an experienced motorcyclist, I thought this was very odd indeed.

This prototype unit felt a bit wobbly and unstable, but I suspect this is a teething problem with the still-in-development vehicle.  The great thing is that it is fully enclosed;  You have a heater, and seats, and a roof, and a windshield, and wipers.  There are countless numbers I’ve ridden in the rain where I want to stay warm and dry, so those are big pluses in the “pros” column.  Of course, scooters with roofs have been around for a while (BMW made one in 2000), and the Nimbus is completely incomparable to anything else on the market.

The main challenge I’ve had is that when I’m on a motorcycle, the “correct” lean angle of a motorbike depends on speed, weight (of bike + driver) and how tight a turn you’re making.  When riding short slaloms on the Nimbus prototype, the lean angle felt “wrong” – sometimes too low, feeling like the vehicle might roll over, and other times too high, again feeling like the vehicle might roll over.  I gave feedback to the team and the company’s CEO Lihong Nong, and the company was able to adjust some of the issues I had:

“Based on your comments we tuned the steering feel after your departure and then it drove more predictably for new drivers,” Nong wrote to me in an email.

The luxury of an early-stage prototype car, of course, is that everything can still be adjusted and upgraded, and it’s probably not worth judging the vehicle on its driving characteristics after my brief test drive.  On top of that, I hasten to add that I’ve ridden tens of thousands of miles on two- and three-wheeled scooters and motorbikes, so I might be a particularly appreciative audience in this case.

My impression is that this vehicle is not for recovering two-wheeled speed freaks, but rather for people who don’t care to figure out what one down, five up means.  And that’s right, because it’s the majority of the population.

The vehicle has really clever innovations.  For example, under a small “hood” at the front of the vehicle, it has a 220V charger – like you’d find in any electric car – and a vacuum-cleaner-style roll-out 110V charger.  This means you have plenty of options for charging the vehicle in many cases.

  4 removable batteries

In addition to charging the batteries inside the car, the batteries are actually removable.  There are four of them, all under the driver’s seat, and the company jokingly refers to them as “V-4 batteries.”  Being able to remove the batteries for charging elsewhere makes this vehicle an especially interesting option for people who don’t have designated parking or a driveway where the vehicle can be charged.  An added bonus on that front is that the smaller car is small enough to park perpendicular to the curb โ€“ meaning you can take advantage of smaller parking spaces.

The vehicle’s 50 mph top speed is a bit of a deal breaker for me.  For one thing, it means you can’t really drive on freeways, including the bridge between San Francisco and Oakland.  Now, the speed limit on the bridge is technically 50 mph, but on my return trip from the Nimbus test drive, I decided to stick to that speed limit once I was in my car.  Other cars were going left and right behind me.  In a car, it’s not safe to stick to the speed limit, and the Nimbus is a small thing compared to my daily driver.  In short, driving over the bridge doesn’t feel safe and is the only way to easily get from Oakland to San Francisco, which torpedoes the company’s bid as a car replacement.

The smaller car has a rear seat where a second person can sit behind the driver, with legroom on either side.  There are seat belts that keep you in place and the vehicle has a forward-view Advanced Driver Assist System (ADAS) that works to keep you safe.

As a six-foot-four guy, I’m probably on the taller end of who can fit in this car.  With the seat (which doesn’t recline) pushed back, I couldn’t get enough room for my knees to move between the accelerator and brake pedals.  I felt my hair touching the windshield above me, and the pillars around the doors gave me a fairly noticeable blind spot that, given the limited size of the vehicle, 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 has nowhere to go but straight through the glass, and there isn’t enough room for me to wear a crash helmet inside the car.  #TallPeopleProblems, sure, but worth noting.

Cute, narrow and easy to park.

The door covers most of the vehicle.

The Nimbus is rear wheel driven and has a neat low storage rack at the back.

The front and rear have LED matrix clusters that can show messages including thanking or flipping the person behind you.

The door origamis out for easy access in tight spaces.

The test drive itself was okay, and it’s impressive how far the small manufacturer has come.  The vehicle’s acceleration wasn’t particularly impressive: even the cheapest 125cc scooters I’ve ridden seemed to have more punch.  I wasn’t able to try the vehicle to its limits;  When I hit the gas, the drive belt would skip, making a horrible loud crunching/clicking noise.  I was afraid for a moment that I was going to break the vehicle, but that’s a quirk of the prototype status of the little car.  A bit messy, but mainly because I couldn’t turn the car the way I could on a motorcycle, and it was hard to gauge what performance it had once The devices began out rolling off the manufacturing line.

The biggest challenge holding back preorders on the Nimbus is that while it’s relatively cheap at $10,000, it gives the cute little three-wheeler a formidable and formidable competitive landscape.  The Ten Large puts you in the same range as an electric cargo bike with all the bells and whistles, a reasonably priced electric motorbike or a very cheap secondhand electric car.  However, amid an onslaught of more familiar rivals, Nimbus must find its home and audience.

  Overall, I want to love Nimbus.  I suppose cars like this need to exist withinside the an increasing number of complicated micromobility landscape  Today I can totally see a fleet of these available where you can rent-by-the-hour electric kick scooters.  There is absolutely room for small cars or roofed motorcycles in the urban landscape.  I’m very excited to see how they develop and I really hope to get the chance to drive one of the production vehicles.

Steering wheel and gear selector.  At the top left, a small screen that acts as a command center.

The cozy interior looks really good.

The car has two doors – one on each side – and the seat is simple but comfortable.

The door origamis out for easy access in tight spaces.

Overall, the Nimbus is definitely worth keeping an eye on as the company gets closer to production.

Drive Pilots

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