As electric cars begin to spread into the lineups of automakers big and small, another wave of retro cars has materialized. Volkswagen is bringing back the Microbus in a couple of years, Mini will field an electric model soon and Fiat has had an electric 500e in its lineup for a while.
A Swiss scooter maker called Micro Mobility has another unconventional but still retro car in the works: the Microlino, styled after the classic Isetta bubble car that was best known for its BMW-derived version (Editor's note: and starring role as Steve Urkel's car in the Family Matters TV series). The company showed off a prototype at the Geneva auto show and plans to start production this summer.
The Microlino is expected to be offered with a choice of two battery capacities -- 8 kilowatt-hours or 14.4 kWh -- offering ranges of 74.5 miles or 133.5 miles. With a top speed of 56 mph, the Microlino is designed for dense cities, taking advantage of its compact proportions to carve out parking spots.
"In collaboration with the university ZHAW and Designwerk, we conducted several studies on the necessary adjustments to transform this design of the past into a car of the future," Micro Mobility said. "For testing purposes, we electrified an old Isetta to analyze our results and get a feeling of such a small car. From all the positive reactions and excitement from people on the street, we knew that this project had to be further developed."
The layout of the Microlino will change little from that of the Isetta: There is a single bench up front for a driver and a passenger, along with a steering wheel and instrument panel incorporated into the front door that opens refrigerator-style. The rear door, which opens upward, offers a modest cargo area, while the battery is under the floor. The headlights are in pods that double as sideview mirrors in another nod to the original Isetta.
Will you be able to buy one in the U.S.? The company plans to offer the Microlino in Europe and license its production, but it hasn't mentioned plans for U.S. sales. Because of its limited speed and, ahem, design-limited crash safety potential, licensing for the road is unlikely but it may (in theory) still be registered as a low-speed EV not meant for public roads, depending on the state.
Ultimately, there is no way to make a modernized Isetta comply with federal crash safety regulations short of adding a hood and making the whole thing Smart EV-sized, at which point it'll cease to be an Isetta.
We have an easier time picturing the Microlino sharing road space with dozens of Vespa scooters in a quaint Italian village in the Alps or finding a parking spot along the canals of Amsterdam than being subjected to the horrors of Los Angeles traffic or competing for space with trucks doing 80 mph on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.