Car sharing programs such as Zipcar, City CarShare and I-Go are all incorporating high efficiency vehicles like the Toyota Prius hybrid into their growing roster of cars, but these vehicles are still stuck in a 20th century mindset that views a car as an instrument for personal mobility.

Even the most efficient car, as imagined today, is not designed with city drivers in mind. If they were, they would be built like the City Car, which represents true paradigm shift in car sharing vehicles.

The City Car was on display at The Cooper Hewitt Design Museum last year as part of the Why Design, Why Now exhibit.

MIT professor William J. Mitchell was the principal investigator on the project, which included students in the Smart Cities Program at the MIT Media Lab as well as collaborators from General Motors.

Clocking in at less than 1,000 pounds, the City Car is a battery-electric two-seater designed to travel the equivalent of 150 to 200 miles on the equivalent of a single gallon of gasoline. Rather than being built over a power train, the City Car has four independently-controlled engines that are digitally controlled and can harness energy from regenerative breaking. However, the real breakthrough of the City Car is its ability to “fold” itself to fit into tight parking spaces.

In the tight confines of a city like New York, or any downtown area, where delivery trucks, passenger vehicles, bikers and pedestrians are all jockeying for the same space, when fully folded, as many as four City Cars–only five feet in length–could fit in the same area as a single parking bay for one of today’s internal combustion cars. While great in an urban context, the City Car is not meant for inter-city or regional trips.

Each car sharing vehicle has the potential to take 15 personal cars off the road. Furthermore, the energy input needed to build and ship those cars is saved when members of car sharing programs rely on a single vehicle. Paris plans to debut the 4,000-vehicle Autolib, a car sharing program that will use electric cars, within the next year. If figures are to be believed, the Autolib can reduce vehicular traffic in Paris by 60,000 cars. However, even these cars will have to go somewhere.

With the City Car, Paris could reduce by 60,000 the number of cars on its streets, and fit the 4,000 of them in the space of just 1,000 vehicles. That would truly be a paradigm shift!