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.