How BMW Could Destroy Tesla at the EV Game
The BMW Isetta was the rolling embodiment of total oddball eccentricity. Despite its death over half a century ago, it lives on as a spectacle at BMW-oriented car shows and in the annals of automotive history as one of the most weirdly endearing vehicles ever to hit the road.
I'm saying it now: BMW, you need to revive the Isetta. It would be cool as hell if it made a comeback, sure, but more importantly, it actually makes sense. A modern spin on this lovable little misfit and you have the potential to totally crush Tesla at the electric-vehicle game. Impossible, you say? Hear me out.
The Isetta is one of the first generation of economy cars
OK, true, the Isetta wasn't exactly an engineering marvel. It was a quirky-as-hell Italian car until BMW bought the rights and shoved a motorcycle engine in back. Designed with the frugal urbanite in mind, its raison d'etre laid in the promise of economy. It delivered, topping 75mpg over 60 years ago, and it even made for one heck of a strange race car.
People dig an efficient car with panache
It's no fluke that over 400,000 people put deposits down on a Tesla Model 3 despite there being nothing truly revolutionary about its engineering. Rather, they've bought into the idea of an efficient car that doesn't break every mirror it passes.
The Isetta differentiates itself from most other cars saddled with the "economy" tag because it doesn't suffer from an economy of personality. I mean, look at it! It could have been forgiven -- and forgotten -- were it just a flavorless thing from the moment you opened the door. But instead, that door is on the front of the car, opening a gateway to a world where fiscal and ecological responsibility doesn't have to be ugly or boring.
BMW makes MINI, so it gets quirky. Rival Mercedes-Benz's corporate sibling, Smart, has been making life-sized Micro Machines for years. The Isetta makes sense here.
BMW already produces an uber-efficient drivetrain
The i3 is, by our calculations, the most environmentally efficient car on the road today (for reference, Tesla isn't even in the top 10). That's a hell of a feat, but more relevantly, that means the hardest work is already done: engineering the drivetrain. Fitting a modernized Isetta body around that drivetrain shouldn't be very difficult, by comparison. And look, I'm not saying the i3 is ugly -- far from it -- but it conveys an image of efficient ennui, rather than quirky environmentalism like a modernized Isetta would.
It's kind of perfect for the autonomous car revolution
Making a sports coupe that can drift itself in circles, or a luxury sedan that can park itself or handle stop-and-go traffic? Those are cool, but ultimately we all know they're merely appetizers. The coming autonomous revolution means traditional car shapes will be reimagined -- the Google car proves that much -- and what better way to leap into the future than a successful design from the past that absolutely embodies the ecological ethos.
It's also perfect for ride-sharing programs
With the Seattle launch and planned expansion of the ReachNow car-sharing service, BMW's corporate intent is clearly aimed at providing an affordable means of transportation to the city-dwelling masses. The program's history also has a few issues with parking, notably in San Francisco -- something a miniature car like the Isetta could alleviate.
Moreover, the concept of a tiny electric car that only fits one or two people -- potentially laden with autonomous tech -- is virtually tailor-made for the future of the taxi industry.
If BMW doesn't build a new Isetta, someone else will
The idea just makes too much sense to not come to fruition. So much so, that a tiny company based in Switzerland has already begun trying to do exactly this. Check out the video above. The re-envisioned Isetta you see here is called the Microlino. The clock is ticking, BMW, and you have a choice: bring back the Isetta as an electric car and kick some Tesla ass in style, or watch the Swiss do it.
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