Bubble Cars Are Back With the Electric Microlino

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Red and white "bubble" car with door open


The tiny Italian car is now available in Europe.

Years ago we extolled the virtue of tiny cars, and called for a new Slow Car movement. I argued that if we all drove cars like the BMW Isetta then we would save fuel and need less parking, and it'd be a lot cheaper because they didn’t need all that life-saving stuff. They would also do less damage to the infrastructure and kill fewer pedestrians and cyclists.

I concluded a decade ago that “We don't need hydrogen cars and new technology, we just need better, smaller designs, lower speed limits and no big SUVs on the road to squish them.” And that was before were were talking about electric and autonomous cars like we do today.

What Is the Microlino?

And now, I have the car of my dreams in the Microlino. I wrote about it when it was a prototype, but now it is real and available for order. It is a little slower and doesn’t go as far as the prototype, but it’s only eight feet long, so it can park perpendicular to the curb and it goes 90 km/h (55 MPH, which we have always said was a good speed) -- maybe not fast enough for Texas but certainly enough for urban and suburban driving. It has a range of 215 km (133 miles) which, again, is good enough for most driving trips. And it costs a measly 12,000 euros (US$14,000) unless somebody sticks a stupid tariff on it.

Data chart about Microlino cars

Little cars need little batteries, so the 14.4 kW/hr (49,134 BTU) batteries charge up from any regular electric outlet in four hours. The trunk carries 300 litres of groceries (10.5 cubic feet) which is enough if you shop like a European.

Why Buy a Microlino?

Three men standing around a red and white bubble car

They explain why Micro scooter founder Wim Ouboter built the Microlino:

Together with his two sons he had the idea to create a space-saving and eco-friendly vehicle for urban mobility. On average, a car is only occupied by 1.2 people and drives 35 kilometers (22 miles) per day. This means that normal cars are too big for most of their use! The ideal vehicle for urban use should therefore be a mix between a motorbike and a car.

The average American drives 37 miles per day, and according to the AAA, more than 86 percent of U.S. households have at least one car for every driver in the home, and “over 66 percent of total driving trips and nearly 62 percent of total miles driven are done by drivers without a passenger in the vehicle.” Surely the Microlino could replace one of these many cars.

Isettas were considered deathtraps, but the Microlino is apparently a bit more solid. The company explains:

The Microlino belongs to the category L7E. That's why it doesn't need to pass a crash test. But that doesn't mean that it’s not important for us to make the Microlino as safe as possible. After our crash simulations the Microlino passes the crash test with 50 km/h.
Interior of car showing seat, steering wheel, and dashboard

Microlino explains that “bubble cars were very popular in the 50s, because people wanted more comfort than on a motorbike but could not afford a real car. With rising living standards the demand decreased and most manufacturers have stopped production of their bubble cars by 1962.”

But today, real cars can be a real problem, and people are looking for alternatives. Perhaps the Microlino can fill that niche between an e-bike and a full-size electric car. Here’s hoping that they come to North America soon.