18.–21.05.2022 #polismobility

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Micro Cars

Four wheels, steering wheel, positive carbon footprint

02. November 2021

Bicycles, cargo bikes, electromobility - the mobility revolution is usually associated with a move away from the car, or at any rate with a move away from the automobile. However, microcars are increasingly gaining access to the market as a kind of intermediate solution. It is worth taking a closer look at these; they can combine the advantages of several forms of mobility.

Micro Cars: Small, maneuverable, fully electric: The Citroen Ami is the perfect city runabout. © Citroen

Micro Cars: Small, maneuverable, fully electric: The Citroen Ami is the perfect city runabout. © Citroen

Rising registration figures

The average length of a passenger car registered in Germany in 2020 was around four and a half meters, and is thus subject to a constant upward trend. The most popular car among Germans, the VW Golf, which measured 3.8 meters when it was launched and now measures a full 4.3 meters in its latest version, is emblematic of this development. Combined with the continuing increase in the number of new registrations, this leads to the following conclusion: It's getting tighter and tighter on the roads. In order not to lose ground despite the rise of non-motorized modes of transport, the automotive industry is becoming visibly more creative and is increasingly developing micro-vehicles reminiscent of earlier models. These new, sustainable, modern and digitized vehicles are grouped together under the term "micro cars".

Micro cars

The spirit of innovation inherent in the concept looms large, especially in today's mobility landscape. In fact, however, the first micro cars were built in Germany and the United Kingdom immediately after World War II, and they enjoyed great popularity until the 1960s. They grew out of the popularity of the motorcycle, which, however, was not suitable for every occasion due to the lack of rain protection. For this reason, two-wheel engines were often installed in the beginning - and a corresponding driver's license was usually enough. The lower gasoline consumption also satiated the need for inexpensive mobility. Cult status was achieved, especially in Germany, by the BMW Isetta, which appeared as a spherical three-wheeler and opened up for entry and exit where the engine is installed today. At 2.29 meters long, it was far shorter than the first Smart car. Ironically, it was the first Mini, of all things, that caused the popularity of micro cars to take off; declared a "people's car," it offered more space and performance, yet was hardly more expensive to buy and operate. To date, no British passenger car has been sold more often.

Electric and compact on the road

With automobiles getting longer and longer, Renault introduced the Twizy in 2011, which, at just over two meters long and with a serial electric drive, moves around town in a sustainable and space-saving way. It can reach 45 km/h in the weakest version and is even approved for highway use in the strongest version. After the small Renault was the only micro car on German roads for a long time, reinforcements are now coming from many sides. In 2020, Citroën launched the small Ami, which is registered as a "light four-wheeled vehicle" and therefore also does not require a Class B driver's license. Here, too, the drive is purely battery electric, and the length is similar to that of the Twizy.

From the same plant, the almost identical Opel Rocks-E (pronounced roxy) will emerge in fall 2021, which also falls under the category of light vehicles. With a length of 2.4 meters and a turning circle of about seven meters, the Rocks-E is what is understood by a "city runabout"; Opel is defining the new vehicle class of SUMs, short for Sustainable Urban Mobility, with this model. It is supposed to be fully charged within just three and a half hours - at a normal household socket. Particularly in inner-city neighborhoods, where it is difficult to install wallboxes, this flexibility can open up new possibilities.

The iconic Isetta is also getting a makeover in the wake of the micro car boom; at least in terms of looks and bodywork. Swiss e-scooter manufacturer micro will in all likelihood launch the microlino later this year, which, with a top speed of 90 km/h and a range of around 200 km, is designed not only for city traffic but also for longer distances. Here, too, fast charging at 230 volts is promised, and the entry-level price is said to be €12,500. The advertising promise: The microlino offers enough space for two adults and three beverage crates. The YOYO from XEV, which is produced by 3D printing, is in the same vein. On the one hand, it can be charged quickly, and on the other, a battery exchange system is supposed to enable the vehicle to travel as quickly as possible, even over long distances.

The lack of space in urban streets is encouraging a return to long-forgotten automobile formats, which more and more national and international manufacturers are joining. It is not yet possible to predict whether they will catch on - although they didn't 80 years ago either. The fact that these small vehicles have always enjoyed great popularity is cause for optimism.

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