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In race to electrify, Uber wants EVs that sacrifice top speeds, wheels

The clock is ticking for Uber to electrify its fleet, and the rideshare company wants automakers to help by designing cheaper electric vehicles for its drivers.

Lawmakers are setting deadlines for rideshare companies to ditch fossil fuels (California's Air Resources Board among them), and Uber has its own electrification deadlines, which range from 2025 to 2030. That's all well and good, but electric vehicles are still too pricey for most people, including rideshare drivers.

So, chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi says Uber is in talks with automakers to build EVs that sacrifice speed, or even a wheel or two, to drive down the sticker price. The CEO didn't name the specific automakers that Uber is apparently working with, but last year the company debuted a rideshare-focused prototype from U.K.-based automaker Arrival.

"Top speeds that many cars have are not necessary for city driving that's associated with rideshare," Khosrowshahi said on Thursday at a Wall Street Journal event. "We're also talking about vehicles that are purpose-built" for delivering things like groceries, he added. "You can imagine smaller vehicles — two-wheelers, three-wheelers — that have trunk space that can get through traffic easier that have a much smaller footprint, both in terms of environmental and also traffic footprint, than let's say a car."

The CEO also said the passenger area could change, with riders potentially "facing each other." (The executive also didn't say if Uber would cover detailing costs from the bouts of motion sickness I assume this would trigger.)

When it comes to meal and grocery delivery, Uber isn't the only company to see potential in much smaller vehicles with fewer wheels. Even in markets like the U.S., where auto rickshaws aren't common, several companies have talked up this idea in recent years, including Arcimoto and ElectraMeccanica.