It’s been nearly 60 years since BMW halted production of its quirky and iconic Isetta with its egg-shaped exterior, minimalist interior and front-opening door. The bubble car was a hallmark of cheap and cheerful mobility in the 50s and 60s.
Bringing it up-to-date, however, is not the German car giant, but two brothers from Switzerland who have already racked up 7,200 orders for their “Microlino”.
Their modern version has swapped out the old single-cylinder petrol engine for a 20bhp electric motor, but they’ve kept the front-opening door.
The brother’s father made millions from modernised kick-scooters, and they themselves plan to launch the Microlino in December.
Oliver, the project’s 24-year-old operations chief, says: “The average modern car is way too big for normal use”, quoting statistics that the average journey involves just 1.2 passengers and is less than 20 miles.
Enthusiasts received the Chinese-built prototypes warmly at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show: “We started a reservations list with 500 spots on it, and in three or four days it was filled up,” said Merlin – the burgeoning company’s chief marketing officer.
Italian Manufacturer Tazzari will be building the car in the long term, and they have a 50% stake in the project, with initial plans to produce 5,000 vehicles per year.
Pre-existing components will help keep the costs down, such as the motor being a modified version of a forklift’s, and the door handles are the same as the Fiat 500.
With an estimated retail price is around €12,000 (about £11,000) the instrumentation is very bare too. “We have stripped out a lot of the needless instruments out,” said Oliver. “In modern cars you have so many buttons, I honestly don’t know what many of them are for.”
It looks to be pretty economical to run, with a range of 74 miles, a top speed of 55mph, and a full, four-hour charge costing in the region of €1.50 at home. At a charging station, it will fully charge in just an hour.
It will fit in tiny parking spaces (handy in Tameside!) at less than 8 feet long, and the front-opening door means you won’t be boxed in, either.
The brothers are launching 100 units this year, and plan to build 1,500-2,000 units next year, increasing to 5,000 per year gradually thereafter. It’s possible that, should the revived BMW prove to be a hit, their annual output could reach 10,000 vehicles per year.
“We hope this in some small way can contribute to more environmentally friendly mobility,” said Merlin, “but also do it in a fun and cool way”.