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It's a small world after all

B.C.'s Electra Meccanica plans to start production this summer on the Solo, a single-seat electric vehicle with an eye-poppingly low price tag

The Solo is designed for environmentally conscious drivers who want a practical commuting vehicle.

When Elon Musk introduced the Tesla semi-truck in November, he proved that electric vehicles can be larger than standard cars.

Now, several other companies are trying to show that they can come in smaller packages, too.

Electra Meccanica, a startup based in Vancouver, is planning to start production this summer on the Solo, a single-seat electric car designed for environmentally conscious drivers who want a practical vehicle for commuting.

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The Solo, which drew large crowds at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, has a range of 160 kilometres and a top speed of 130 kilometres an hour.

The car, which resembles a slimmed-down Volkswagen Beetle, takes about three hours to juice up using a 220-volt charger. A standard electrical plug can also be used, but doing so doubles the charge time.

It also has storage space in its back trunk, as well as under the front hood.

The Solo's three wheels mean it could be considered a motorcycle in some jurisdictions, but the company says it requires only a regular car licence because it has a hard roof.

"You can drive it on the highway and it has usable storage," says Lorenzo Caprilli, vice-president of sales and marketing for Electra Meccanica. "It's not so niche that it doesn't have wide applications."

The Solo's most attractive feature may be its cost. Depending on the province and the respective electric vehicle rebate, the car's $19,800 price tag can become almost insignificant. Ontario's rebate of $14,000, for example, means the Solo would cost buyers only $5,800.

The Solo’s three wheels mean it could be considered a motorcycle in some jurisdictions, but the company says it requires only a regular car licence because it has a hard roof.

The car is already road legal in British Columbia, where the rebate is $5,000, and is waiting on safety certification in the rest of Canada. Caprilli expects U.S. approval in the next few months, with the Pacific Northwest representing a big target market for the company.

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Electra Meccanica is currently hand-building about four vehicles a month and has delivered three to buyers, the first one to a deli in New Westminster, B.C., that is using it to deliver sandwiches. The company plans to use manufacturing plants in China to get into full production.

Caprilli says the company has preorders for about 600 vehicles and is in talks with Canadian and U.S. dealers to distribute the Solo once production ramps up.

Production and certification may not be the biggest obstacles facing the company, though. North Americans are notorious for their love of big cars, which could make the smaller and unusual-looking Solo a tough sell.

Despite that, Caprilli believes there are enough drivers looking for a practical alternative.

"They typically drive in a four-person car when they don't need to," he says. "Once we get more of these on the road, the inertia associated with buying such a new-looking car will gradually erode."

Arcimoto, a similar small electric-vehicle maker, is making the same bet. The Eugene, Ore.-based company was also at CES last week showing off its FUV, or Fun Utility Vehicle.

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The three-wheeled FUV has similar stats to the Solo, with a top speed of 130 kph and a range of 110 or 210 kilometres, depending on battery size. It's also inexpensive, with a base price of $11,900 (U.S.) and can use a 120- or 240-volt charger.

The FUV differs from Electra Meccanica's vehicle by virtue of not having doors or windows, which makes it looks more like a dune buggy than a proper car.

Appearances aside, the company is trying to get highway authorities to consider the vehicle a car rather than a motorcycle on account of its enclosed form factor. Arcimoto is also in talks with Transport Canada about certification and is planning to offer Jeep-style hard- and soft-shell enclosures for drivers in colder climates.

The company, which is listed on the Nasdaq Stock Market, says the FUV is in production with a back order of 2,000 units. As with Electra Meccanica's Solo, it is currently being hand-built, with full production planned by the end of the year.

The company also believes it can find a market despite North Americans' predilections for bigger cars. "We all buy vehicles for the worst-case scenario. … We thought we'd look at that dominant model and build the right tool for the job," creative director Jeremy Bronson says. "There's a lot of utility to be had in a vehicle that's low cost, low overhead and definitely a low footprint with no emissions."

Shopping for a new car? Check out the new Globe Drive Build and Price Tool to see the latest discounts, rebates and rates on new cars, trucks and SUVs. Click here to get your price.

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