Since 1988, the Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act has forced enthusiasts to sit and wait for years for their favorite cars to become legal to import and own in America. For some folks, it means agonizingly waiting over for their dream cars to reach the ripe old age of 25, when the federal government and most states will finally allow their toy in. That’s why I’m always happy to highlight the occasional time when an awesome car leaks through the border. This time, we have a quirky French vehicle — a tiny 2012 Renault Twizy. This is something that you can buy in Michigan right now!
According to Renault, the Twizy’s story starts in 2007. A team of enthusiasts at Renault were convinced that there was a market for a vehicle slotting between a moped and a car. In Europe, this type of vehicle is called a quadricycle. Here in America, these are sometimes called an autocycle. As a story about the Twizy’s history from publication Car Body Design writes, Carlos Ghosn expected the cost of fuel to rise, and that electricity would be cheaper. The Renault team then started exploring electric vehicles. In 2009, this research resulted in four electric concepts, the Fluence, Kangoo ZE, Twizy, and ZOE.
Among the greenlit ideas was the little Twizy, and its designers were given more freedom than the other projects. The designers worked with an initial goal to build a vehicle to fit the needs of urban commuters. Designers paid attention to statistics, which said that the average number of occupants per car was 1.4 people, and that the average commute was just 60 km. Thus, the new vehicle would have just a single seat. Creature comforts weren’t as important as making the vehicle give its occupant the feelings that motorcycle riders get. But unlike a motorcycle, the designers’ vehicle would feature car-like safety features. It would even have a high seating position like a city car.
Through the design process, the Twizy gained door beams for safety. Like a Smart Fortwo, the driver and a passenger (sitting in tandem) would be protected by a safety cage, and there’s even an airbag up front. To keep costs down, Renault’s team avoided going for a suspension that would lean into turns, furthering that motorcycle feel.
The finished product started reaching customer hands in 2012, and to date it’s still a distinctive vehicle. Keeping with the motorcycle-feeling theme, a regular Twizy isn’t enclosed. Instead, it’s open, with the only thing separating you from the outside world being those scissor door-style beams and a roof. You don’t even get an HVAC system. Instead, if you want to drive one in the winter, you have to get optional window coverings and you’d keep yourself warm with a heated blanket.
So calling this a car might be a stretch, but it’s still pretty awesome. At 7 feet, 7 inches-long, it’s a little more than a foot shorter than a U.S. market Smart Fortwo. And at 3 feet, 11 inches-wide, you could park two of them next to each other in the same parking space.
The Twizy was available in two power levels. A Twizy 45 nets you a 5 HP motor and a 28 mph top speed. This little guy could be driven by teenagers in many European countries. On the higher end is the Twizy 80, which bumps the power up to 17 HP and top speed 50 mph. No matter the version you get, there’s a 7 kWh battery mounted low. Renault says that this small battery charges to full in 3.5 hours, and it can carry the thing 50 miles before needing a recharge.
Originally priced at €6,990 for a Twizy 45 with a €50 battery lease, the Twizy was an instant hit, selling 9,020 units in 2012. This reportedly made it the best-selling EV in Europe that year. Later, the price would rise to €10,300, but at least the battery was no longer a lease item. Today, Renault says that a Twizy 45 in France will set you back €7,450 while the 80 costs €8,240. And there were more cool versions, too, like a cargo version and the Twizy F1 that used an upgraded motor and a KERS to hit 97 HP.
That brings us to the pint-sized guy here in America. This Twizy for sale in Ann Arbor, Michigan was found by a reader named Jonathan. Sadly, it’s a slower Twizy Urban 45, which means that you’re limited to speeds of 28 mph. Technically, this would fall under our government’s classification of a low-speed vehicle, but even those still need to meet federal standards.
Like Jason’s Changli, this isn’t a road legal vehicle. For Americans, this is really just a glorified golf cart.
While these are still on sale elsewhere in the world, they were never sold in America, making this a rare sight. However, the seller is correct in that some states would be willing to put a plate on this Twizy, but you won’t be able to drive on many roads.
As for why this Twizy is here, the seller says that it was imported from Germany as a display vehicle for an engineering evaluation. There is an exemption in import law that allows a vehicle to be imported solely for display purposes. The seller told me that because the vehicle was imported this way, this Twizy is still not road legal. That evaluation is done, so now it’s up for sale. Of course, I was curious about what that engineering evaluation was about, but the seller wasn’t able to tell me.
Perhaps impressively, it has the equivalent of 18,423 miles on its odometer. So this was really used as someone’s city car. The seller says that charging it works from a 220V adapter, and you just plug it into the same 220V outlet that your dryer uses. And one upgrade is already done for you, as it has removable windows to enclose the Twizy’s interior from the elements.
Despite its speed limitation, I’d totally buy it and turn it into a baby side-by-side. But I could see this being a sweet vehicle for a city dweller, assuming that a local DMV plays nice and gives it a license plate. Like the original design intent, this is about as slow as a moped, but safer and with some protection from the elements. The seller wants $10,900 for this one, which is a hefty price to pay for the little utility that you get. But you will be able to say that you’re one of what’s certainly just a handful of people in America with one of Renault’s weirdest modern vehicles.
“However, the seller is correct in that some states would be willing to put a plate on this Twizy…”
“The seller told me that because the vehicle was imported this way, this Twizy is still not road legal.”
I’m curious which states would put a plate on a not-road legal car. Or do they mean you could get a SxS plate or something?
In Minnesota, I see a lot of side by sides with license plates. Just about anything with all the necessary lighting and turn signals can get a plate here. I assume this would fall into that category as well.
unless it was the 80 with a 50MPH max speed these would just be a nuisance on most city streets. I would try to and I do like the Elio type rear seat for the kiddo, but I would almost be afraid of the danger I would be imposing on her by a-hole drivers. Still although removable doors are kind of cool, I would rather have AC and Defrost and full roll up windows for commuting in the midwest.
Okay am i the only genius on here? Im thinking make one of these low powered low speed vehicles that are legal in subdivisions and 25mph roads. Senior Citizen developements that are built with Grocery Stores and Golf Courses. Have room for 4 but removable doors and have that back seat convertable for storage. Boom 2 couples go to the club house for dinner, boom grandma drives to the grocery store for supplies, boim grandpa takes the doors off picks up his buddy golf bags go in the back seat and not only do they drive to the golf course they can use it as a golf cart on the course. Man why arent any auto manufacturers hiring me to solve their problems?
they did sell them, they were called GEM’s and they were anything but. still they at least sold them here once upon a time.
But it’s not a SxS: you would call this a tandem, no?
The doors-up shot rather reminds me of a Ladybug —but that could just be the fact that I’m still dealing with the tail-end of the annual Ladybug migration into my living space.
I wonder how strong the motor is: could it handle taller knobby tires? Ditch the fenders, lift it 2-3 inches, throw on knobby tires, some lights, a push bar & atv winch…you’re ready for the Gambler37. Maybe a generator on a trailer as a range-extender?
And, that textured square at the bottom of the rear is just begging to become a QR code taking one to the build thread/Instagram-journey account
With the doors up it I think it looks like a little cartoon character exclaiming, “Woohoo!”
My elementary school was a huge stopover on the ladybug migration, and every year for a week or so what had to’ve been tens of thousands would swarm the campus and turn the white painted concrete exterior walls of several buildings into a deep red. I will never get that oily, bitter smell out of my memory.
You just described a GEM car and any number of NEV’s that have been available for years. It still makes zero sense that the Twizy is not legal to import or drive in the US when so many similar vehicles are imported from China every day. Hell even the Chinese knock offs are available.
My wife would probably dig this as a bare minimum car for errands and her once a week commute but I feel like a Daihatsu Midget would be more useful since it could haul garden stuff too big for a Twizy
There are lots of these in Bermuda, where local laws prohibit non-locals from renting real cars. The best you can do is either a scooter or one of these.
They are…not good. They have an enormous amount of gear whine and the suspension is awful. Despite the small size they feel ponderous and heavy and the visibility is surprisingly bad. With two people aboard they’re pretty slow, too. In the summer, they’re hot as hell until you get them moving, and even then they’re pretty warm. I can only imagine how unpleasant they’d be in the winter.
Compared to a scooter, in Bermuda? Sure, this is better. It’s got a place to put some luggage and is moderately safer. A terrifying number of people are killed on scooters in Bermuda. But compared to anything else, anywhere else? No thank you, please.
So you are saying in Bermuda where lots of tourist are drinking, not aware of where they are going, driving a scooter for the first time accidents increase?
A very interesting article – I saw these things all over France and didn’t know much about them. However, knowing Mercedes’ love of all automotive things that are tiny or oversized, I was surprised this article wasn’t titled “I just bought the only Renault Twizy in the U.S., by Mercedes Streeter”
The average commute is 60 km? That converts to 37 miles! Are you sure that’s not 6 km?
That’s what one of the designers of the Twizy said! 🙂 Keep in mind that we’re talking about Europe here, and the designer didn’t drill down where they got the data from.
I was expecting it to be shorter than that! The average American commute is 41 miles round trip. At least, that’s what five seconds of Googling claims, and it feels about right. I’ve always been told that European commutes are much shorter, but two miles each way is kind of insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
30km each way sounds pretty accurate to me for people who commute in cars, shorter distances are likelier in public transport.
There should be a few more kicking around in the US:
There was a startup company in San Francisco that made them available as short term rentals for a while. I guess they had a deal with the City to allow them on the street.
A Nissan research center in Silicon Valley had (still has?) at least one (along with a Renault Espace).
Both of these sightings occurred at least five years ago…
It would make an envy-inducing mobility scooter.
If there’s a market for this slow thing, then surely there’s a market for a vehicle similar to it that is longer, lower, slightly more narrow, and greatly more aerodynamic, with the power of a very fast motorcycle pushing it and AWD. As an EV, single-digit Wh/mile or as an ICE 1,000+ mpg is within reach. You could get much more range with a much smaller battery than what this has.
There’s a market for this in France because you can drive it without a licence. Useful when you’ve been caught drink driving.
I was aware of this. The microcar I designed in my profile was specifically designed not to conform to any of my state’s motor vehicle definitions, while being functional as a “bicycle”. Thus, legally it is a “bicycle”. No license, registration, title, tags, plates, insurance, or any of that crap needed. I’ve been pulled over 30+ times and the cops haven’t been able to legally do anything. The iteration of the design pictured can accelerate like a malaise-era car and reach 50 mph, and is capable of doing donuts and burning up the rear tire on the drive wheel. It had 4 horsepower. It is currently disassembled for upgrades and will soon have 13 horsepower.
Once upgraded, the goal is that it will be capable of 0-60 mph in under 8 seconds and able to top out at 100+ mph using the electric motor, activated only when pedaling, and if you shut the motor off and are fit, you’ll still be able to pedal it to 40+ mph in a sprint and hold 25+ mph for hours at a time.
For states where class 3 ebikes are defined, I have a switch to limit the electric assist to 750W/28 mph. For states where ebikes are not defined, in most cases, this thing is legally a “bicycle”, and is still perfectly functional as one.
I even ride it on bike trails, usually with the motor disabled when I do so. It’s a trip to get fresh off the trail after civilly riding with some Lance Armstrong wannabees on road bikes and enjoying an honest workout, only to turn the motor on and leave a 20-foot streak of rubber in the parking lot while taking off or to start doing donuts, much to their dismay or chagrin.
Yes, but it’s legal to drive without a licence because of the 45km/h limit. It would be interesting to compare the sales of twizzee 45 and 80, but I suspect most people buy this because they can’t buy something bigger not because they don’t need something bigger.
Full disclosure : I’m french and I considered buying one…
I especially like the rear end with the friendly robot face. How often does a SmartCar driver get to say, I think I’ll take the small car today?
There were also some Nissan-badged Twizys registered in the US as part of the Scoot car-sharing fleet: https://www.greencarreports.com/news/1100894_is-an-electric-scoot-quad-nee-renault-twizy-car-sharings-urban-future
I love the panels thrown on that obviously cover the molded in spots for Renault diamonds front and rear.