He calls it the “hackable car,” an affordable electric vehicle designed for developing countries with a solar panel on the roof and a front that (for ease of manufacture) is identical to the back. Designer Yves Béhar of Fuseproject is a “superstar,” says Fast Company, and is perhaps best known for the $100 Third World laptop he developed with MIT genius Nicholas Negroponte. Through San Francisco-based Fuseproject, which he founded, Béhar also designed the Leaf LED lamp for Herman Miller, lifestyle products for the Mini, and reinvented Birkenstocks.

At the Greener Gadgets conference in New York Thursday, Béhar debuted his latest idea: CAR+, a modular green automobile. “Green is the sexiest tool in the designer’s box,” he said. “We found with the $100 laptop that, once it’s introduced, the concept spreads from the original target market — soon everyone wants one.” And obviously that could happen with the car, too. What’s not to like, after all?

The CAR+ would have rugged textured front fenders, LED lights, 360-degree greenhouse visibility, a solar roof and battery drive. The windshield and rear windows are the same, as are the front and rear bumpers, and the trunk and hood.

In an interview, Béhar described the $2,500 Indian-made Tata Nano as “awesome,” and industrial giant Tata could actually be the company to make the hackable car, which in Béhar’s sketches could easily be transformed into a pickup, SUV, station wagon or other variant.

China is fast establishing an electric vehicle infrastructure, and Béhar said, “The developing world can leapfrog us in many ways, and this is one of them.” Established auto companies are “very much stuck in a design rut,” he said. “They need original design briefs and 21st century business models.”

Béhar later followed up in an e-mail: “The famous brief for the [Citroen] 2CV was to allow two peasants to drive 100 kilograms of goods to market at 60 kilometers an hour, across rutted fields without breaking eggs. While wearing hats. And of course, that brief led to a vehicle that was insanely hackable.

And in fact, the models that have existed largely unchanged for decades in automotive history often have that in common — the Ford Model T, the 22R-based Toyota pickup, the Citroen 2CV the Volkswagen Beetle and Bus, the Series Land Rovers and the Jeep CJ. And people have done things with them the designers and engineers behind them never would have considered.”

CAR+ could be a battery electric, or a diesel/electric hybrid. “We could even think about the rear wheels coming off, and it could drive a water pump or grain processing setup.” Does that sound far-fetched? Not at all. They did similar stuff with Ford Model Ts all the time.

Related on MNN: Greener Gadgets Conference 2010

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