Is this Vehicle a Car or a Motorcycle?

Lit Motors C1 AEV
Source: Lit Motors

When it comes to the future of transportation, the Lit C-1 checks all the boxes that you would expect from the vehicle of the future. It’s an all-electric, fully-enclosed motorcycle that promises to reduce congestion, improve rider safety, and lower transportation costs. Even better, through the magic of gyroscopes and science, it manages to stabilize itself, even at a complete stop. Because it’s the motorcycle of the future and not the motorcycle of today, it’s still in its prototype stage and is unlikely to go on sale any time in the near future.

As the company behind the C-1, Lit Motors, continues to get more publicity from its prototype, it’s worth considering whether or not the C-1 is truly an improvement and whether the motorcycle is worth improving.

City transportation could certainly use a serious improvement. For a look at what happens when no one has a plan for managing congestion as a city grows, look no further than my home city of Atlanta. It’s consistently rated as one of the worst cities to drive in, and that’s mostly due to the ridiculous amount of urban sprawl paired with a hilariously inadequate public transportation system.

New York City traffic may be bad, but at least the subway offers an alternative to driving. Atlanta’s public transportation system, MARTA, offers a decent way to get to the airport from inside the city, and that’s about it. Anywhere else you want to go, you have to drive. If you think New York’s traffic is bad now, just imagine how bad it would be if the only way to get more than a few blocks was to take a car. It would be absurd, and no one would get anywhere.

Moving on from public transportation, one way to help alleviate some of the congestion in a crowded city would be for the people who don’t need a five or seven passenger vehicle to take something much smaller than a BMW 7 Series or GMC Yukon to work. In that regard, the C-1 is definitely an improvement, but it’s not necessarily an improvement over a motorcycle. A motorcycle, after all, is just as small or smaller, and it probably costs a lot less money.

The C-1 would theoretically make up that extra cost over time by saving drivers money on fuel, but the range of a small, electric vehicle like that would limit it almost entirely to city applications. The same motorcycle that I bought for getting around Atlanta day-to-day was also able to take me on a road trip to Tallahassee. People who own city cars don’t necessarily travel outside the city often, but motorcyclists are much more likely to head up to the mountains or out to the beach just for pleasure. After all, a Victory Hammer 8-Ball is a lot more fun to take out of the city than a Chevrolet Spark.

Yamaha Star V Max
Source: Yamaha

Perhaps, then, the Lit C-1 is more of a city car that embraces the best of what a motorcycle has to offer without compromising the advantages of driving a car. Like a motorcycle, it’s about the same size, can carry two passengers when it needs to, could lane split where legal, and is both maneuverable and easy to park. It also offers car-like features such as inclement weather protection, air conditioning, heat, air bags, and the ability to stand upright on its own at a stop.

If you think of it less like a motorcycle and more like a vehicle that combines the best features of both to create the ideal city car, then there’s certainly potential there, but I’m not sure that’s the best approach for a company to take. Motorcyclists are not going to embrace a fully-enclosed, two-wheeled car as a replacement for their current bike no matter how great it would be to avoid getting wet when it rains, and the complicated system that keeps the C-1 upright on its own will probably be intimidating and hard to trust.

Traditional car drivers, on the other hand, will probably look at the two wheels on the C-1 and think of it as an expensive toy instead of a car alternative. True or not, the motorcycle is still not widely accepted as an inexpensive form of transportation. Especially when considering a used bike, the low cost of buying, running, and maintaining a motorcycle makes it a tempting option for basic transportation, especially in urban and suburban areas, but for a lot of people, the negative stigma still remains.

The biggest difference in the Lit C-1 and a motorcycle is that you can actually go buy any motorcycle in your budget tomorrow, and the C-1 is still in the prototype stage. If it ever makes it to market, it will certainly be an interesting experiment, but it will also be an excellent study of how people view the distinction between cars and motorcycles. Can a vehicle that blurs the lines succeed and create a new market for itself, or will it be too outside the box and fail to find an audience?

My money’s on failure, and that’s always the safe approach to take when betting on what new transportation technology will do, but there are a lot of people who had to eat their words after taking the same stance on Tesla. In 10 years, I could be writing about the new hot commodity in city transportation. I doubt it, but it could certainly happen.

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