European Company Reboots A 1950s-Era Car With An Electric Twist

Micro Mobility will be bringing back to life the iconic, 1950s-era Isetta. An updated design keeps signature features with the addition of modern amenities like electric batteries.


May 20 2019, Updated 4:59 p.m. ET

If you watched Family Matters in the '90s, you might remember Steve Urkel’s sweet Isetta microcar with its refrigerator-like front door. The Isetta was originally manufactured in 1952 by Italian firm Iso SpA before the design's body-making equipment was bought by BMW in 1954. Unfortunately for quirky car enthusiasts, production was limited and after 1962 the cars stopped being made.

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Now, more than a half century after its initial debut, Swiss company Micro Mobility is bringing the classic design back to life with a jolt of electricity. The company has revealed the Microlino, an Isetta with an EV twist.

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The layout for this little electrified car has stayed true to its original inspiration. Passengers can hop in by opening the entire front end of the vehicle, which also holds the steering wheel and instrument panel. The passenger and driver sit side by side on a single bench seat. The rear door opens up to make way for cargo, while the headlights have been worked into the sideview mirrors for a practical design touch. Although it might be snug inside the car, there’s always the upside of nearly unlimited parking space options for creative drivers. The Microlino only stretches to about 7 feet in length. 

Coming in around 992 pounds, this featherweight doesn’t need a lot of power to zoom around. The Microlino will come with two battery options, either 8 kWh or 14.4 kWh, which will give the driver a range of 74.5 miles or 133.5 miles on a full charge, respectively. Batteries can be recharged and back on the road in four hours after plugging into any conventional domestic power socket (or if you have a Type 2 connector, one hour). This ride is definitely designed for city use: The compact EV won’t be winning any drag races with its max speed of just 56 mph.

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Wim Ouboter, who founded Micro Mobility Designs in 1999, came up with the idea to bring back the Isetta. He recognized the adorable little car's potential to be an ideal environmentally friendly vehicle for city dwellers. The first designs for the Microlino were created in 2015.

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The Microlino team collaborated with the Zurich University of Applied Sciences and Designwerk to bring the old design into the 21st century. To test it, they electrified an original Isetta and created their first prototypes in August  of 2015. When the prototype model was presented to the public, thousands of requests came through, and they knew they were on to something. The group teamed up with Italian car manufacturer Tazzari because of its experience with electric cars. The plan is to put the Isetta into production this summer. 

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Color options are being determined by consumers. Micro Mobility Systems has invited the public to vote on eight different color combinations via social media. Unfortunately, Americans may have to wait a little while before they can get their hands on a Microlino of their own. Initial sales will start in Switzerland and Germany and trickle throughout Europe. One of the chief hurdles holding back the car is its ability to meet strict US crash safety tests. Still, the Microlino may find its way across the pond sooner if it gets registered as a low-speed electric vehicle not meant for high-speed public roads.

When that day comes, you can expect to snag your own Isetta for around $14,683.

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