Geneva 2017 – L’Insolite: Mad Swiss Makes an Electric Ghoul Isetta

Van Helsing starter kit in hand, roving reporter, Robertas Parazitas comes face to face with another automotive revenant.

Image: Microlino

The Geneva Salon is still a place where rich men can show their dreams made metal. Jim Glickenhaus was there with his SCG003S hypercar. Not far away, Felix Eaton, Huddersfield’s answer to Glickenhaus, proudly launched his graceful Black Cuillin. More modest in size, but equally single-minded is the Microlino, the creation of Wim Oubouter.

Oubouter has something of a track record as a transport innovator, which suggests that this venture is more than vanity or capricious whimsy.

Oubouter invented and produced the original micro-scooter, the ‘Kickboard’, and claims that at the peak of its success in 2000 the device was being made at the rate of 80,000 per day by 15,000 workers.

The scooter fixation began because his sister had one leg 250mm shorter than the other. As she could not ride a bicycle but managed a scooter – of the leg propelled variety – without problems, her siblings were made to ride similar devices even at an age when their contemporaries would have graduated to pedal cycles.

The micro-scooter, we are told by the “Visionär und Pionier”, was devised when he was 30 years old and a successful but bored banker, in order that he could visit his favourite sausage shop in Zurich. The lightweight contraption was ideally suited to the route, which was too far away for Oubouter to walk, but not so distant that he wished to trouble one of his cars or bicycles.

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Wind forward sixteen years, and the new Oubouter venture, the Microlino EV appeared in inchoate form at last year’s Salon. It is an unashamed Isetta homage. The prototype was a real BMW-built Isetta converted to electric power, but the 2016 show car was built in China as a working prototype.

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Following the show, with 500 orders received, a joint venture for production was set up with Tazzari Group of Imola, who are already producing their own EV, the ZERO.

Tazzari ZERO Image: Microlino

Production is set to begin in spring 2018 with a €12,000 starting price. Other numbers are 15kw (20bhp) motor power, a 450kg kerb weight, a top speed of 80km per hour, and a 120km range.

The Magritte-esque statement is significant. The Microlino is designed to fit in the debatable land occupied by quad-bikes and tricycles, where tax, driver licensing, and construction and use rules weigh far more lightly. There is much made of eco-friendly lean production, a low parts count, and a production system which will facilitate licensing of local manufacture globally.

Will it be any good? It’s too soon to say, but I applaud any effort to make small short-haul EVs appealing.  Pioneers like the Think!, REVA G-Wiz and i-MiEV didn’t exactly fuel the flames of desire, and the task of making electric vehicles sexy has fallen on the Teslas, Faraday Futures, and Jaguar I-Paces of this world.  The world is still waiting for a convincing and affordable electric runabout, and the Microlino’s numbers look just about right.

I’m not wholly convinced by the retro-Isetta thing.  The original does have its place in automotive history, firstly by being the saviour of BMW, and secondly by so incensing Len Lord that he set Alec Issigonis the task of designing a ‘proper’ small car to drive it and its ilk off the roads.

Even then, the Isetta’s paucity of secondary safety features and front end access raised some concerns.  The photos below suggest that the Microlino has not advanced much in this matter. It’s all a bit “Wer den Tod nicht scheut”. I know it’s “not a car”, but these days safety sells.


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As is often the way, I’ll probably be proved wrong and Microlinos will soon become a ubiquitous part of the European city carscape. BMW will then realise the folly of their try-too-hard i3 and replace it with a world-conquering electric 600, which will right the wrong of the “Großer Isetta’s” commercial failure. You read it here first.

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11 thoughts on “Geneva 2017 – L’Insolite: Mad Swiss Makes an Electric Ghoul Isetta”

  1. The Automobile had a nice article about the UK built Isetta a few months ago. Possibly the Brighton facility was the only car factory that had no road access. Being built in an old railway factory, everything had to arrive and leave by rail.

    I agree with Robertas that although the Microlino looks cute enough, it’s a pity it references something else and can’t look a bit more 2020. I also agree with Robertas that I might be wrong and they’ll sell really well. Until the bubble bursts.

    1. If you’re looking for a similar concept that’s not retro, I think the Renault Twizy may fit. I don’t see what’s so novel about the Microlino over the Twizy.

    2. The advantage about the Twizy is you can get out both sides. The disadvantage is that tandem seating is rather unsociable and makes the driver’s neck very vulnerable to an irate passenger in the unlikely event on them driving in an excessive way – or so I’ve been told.

    3. You’re right about the seating. Although I think that for the usual OPCU (one person commuting unit) this argument is not very relevant. For romantic trips with one’s partner I’d recommend other means of transport anyway.

    4. I did go on a couple of holidays on my bike with my partner when I was younger. But I realised it was not the most mutual of things to do. I read that Jeremy Corbyn used to take his first wife on holiday on his motorcycle. He has been married 3 times.

    5. Surely though, in our vastly overcrowded cities, a longer, narrower vehicle is a better option than a wider one?

      The biggest problem I see with the Twizy is that it looks spindly and therefore people assume it isn’t safe. It also isn’t the most attractive looking thing I’ve ever seen. Yet I count myself as a fan of the concept if not the execution. Hats off to renault for having a go though. And while I’m tossing my hat about, chapeau to the Wim Oubouters of this world for making something that nods towards a solution rather than yet another pointless 500 bhp projectile.

    6. A motorcycle can often step outside lane conventions and slip through traffic, usually without attracting the ire of either the police or car drivers. But a ‘car’ like Twizy is still restricted by lanes so, unless all vehicles were that narrow and roads re-marked accordingly to add an extra lane, there really isn’t that much advantage to be gained from the reduced width.

    7. Completely agree with your last sentence, Eóin.

      I’m not sure if a Twizy is really narrow enough to make that a big advantage. On the other hand, it also seems that it’s not much longer than the Isettolino. In my opinion, what makes even more sense in cities than a narrow Twizy are bikes and buses. But for someone who has to be independent, reasonably fast and somewhat weather protected, it’s still better than a standard car.

  2. The Toyota i-road makes more sense than a twizzy or Isettolino. It’s also a more dynamic drive with the tilting function but alas while still testing it in the real world they have recently introed a newer three seat version. Having used one of the Piaggio tilting trikes for a while I am convinced a narrow tilting vehicle is the solution for a city scape secenario.
    The French Lumeneo was once a promising concept but has all but disappeared without trace!

  3. I would love to see the Microlino doing well. Whilst I agree with Sean’s remark about it’s a pity that it can’t “look a bit more 2020”, the Swiss has the nicest design among the small EVs. Best of luck for Microlino.

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