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02 May 2012

BMW eSetta: BMW's new electric concept sizzles to life

Words by Niky Tamayo | Photos and story courtesy of Tony Weichselbraun
Microcar lovers, rejoice! BMW's iconic Isetta has been re-imagined for the 21st Century as an urban electric runabout that's twice as stylish as a SMART and twice as cute as Wall-E.
Of course, that's what we'd be saying if BMW had actually released the eSetta concept. Unfortunately, it's a simple styling exercise performed by designer Tony Weichselbraun in what we can only describe as a very public job application to the German car manufacturer.
The original Isetta was, of course, not designed by BMW. If it were, it would have been called the Kleinmobil... or perhaps even Volkswagen... Instead, the Isetta ("little ISO") was first manufactured by, you guessed it, ISO in Italy. Now ISO made refrigerators, something that's immediately obvious when viewing the style and color palette of the Isetta, but the Isetta was a veritable hit for them. Weighing less than most walk-in refrigerators and powered by a small one-pot motorcycle engine, the Isetta was capable of up to 25 km/l. 
It proved so popular that various other manufacturers bought licenses to produce the machines. One of these was a financially troubled BMW. BMW was, at the time, not in great shape. Post-World War, all BMW had in its portfolio were its motorbikes and large-engined cars. What the market needed, in that time of scarce oil, was something economical and cheap. So they took an Isetta, fitted it with an arguably better BMW 250cc motorbike engine, re-engineered the holy hell out of the thing, and re-released it as the BMW Isetta in 1955. They sold over 160,000 of them, which may not sound like a big number by today's standards, but it saved BMW's bacon.
Unfortunately, by the time the economy got back on track, people wanted real cars, cars with more space and utility. The appearance of the Austin Mini effectively killed off the microcar market.
Tony's design study is just as diminutive as the original, but it's not going to be competing with the MINI-e. Instead, he conceives of it as an urban runabout. With its low speed and possibly short range, it'll be more suited to inner-city car sharing than highway use.
Unfortunately, BMW at the present already has a design direction for its eDrive concepts. And no, it doesn't feature cycle fairings or white-sidewalls.
More's the pity. White sidewalls make everything better. Better luck next time, Tony.