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The Microlino Lite can go 28 mph and seats two.

Microlino Lite Header Image Microlino Lite Header Image

The U.S. is known, rightly so, as the land of big-ass gas guzzlers. One ambitious European company hopes to sell Americans on just the opposite, and to do so, it’s running a design playbook that evokes the adorably classic BMW Isetta.  

Swiss manufacturer Micro on Monday revealed the Microlino Lite, a quirky, tiny and cartoonishly adorable electric car that the typical American pickup truck could eat for breakfast. And yet, Micro hopes to introduce the vehicle to U.S. streets by the end of this year, a company spokesperson told The Verge

Can a wholly un-American city car help wean U.S. drivers off of oversized, inefficient SUVs and trucks? That would certainly be terrific as far as our worsening climate crisis is concerned. Plus, I’d venture to guess that more people could get real use out of the Microlino Lite than they think. 

But conquering a country whose best-seller has been the Ford F-Series pickup for four decades running will be a challenge, to say the least. 

A little about the Microlino Lite: It has a top speed of 45 kilometers per hour (28 mph) and produces 12 peak horsepower. Micro claims a base range of 62 miles, but that can be increased to 112 for buyers who select a larger battery pack. 

The Lite accepts a Level 2 charge and can be topped up from 0-80% in two or four hours, Micro says, depending on whether we’re talking about the smaller or larger battery. 

The vehicle has two seats, a small storage area and an ultra-basic cockpit with a few buttons and one screen facing the driver. It’s 95 inches long. For reference, that’s nearly a foot shorter than a Smart Car. And like the classic Isetta—born in Italy, and later made by BMW—the main door is upfront and swings out for you to step inside. 

Here’s the kicker: It’s super cheap. In Switzerland, the Microlino Lite will start leasing for the equivalent of $169 per month this summer. Recharging it shouldn’t cost much either, since you don’t need much electricity to propel such a small vehicle. 

The Microlino Lite is a slower version of the Microlino, which is already on sale in Europe. That means it can be driven by teenagers and folks without driver’s licenses in some countries. In the U.S., it meets the requirements to be classified as a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV), a spokesperson told The Verge. 

NEVs are capped at 25 mph and can travel on roads with speed limits not exceeding 35 mph. There are a handful to choose from in the U.S. already, but, dare I say, none are as cute as the Microlino.  

Some 60 miles of range and a low top speed sounds ridiculous at first, but I’d bet the Microlino Lite could work well for lots of American households. Imagine it as a family’s second car for quick trips around town. Or as someone’s primary vehicle in a dense city, where driving long distances isn’t really a thing. Remember: Americans drive less than 40 miles per day on average, and many of their trips are just a few miles long. 

Now that I think about it, I could’ve used a Microlino for several trips I’ve taken in the last few weeks using my five-seat SUV. Grabbing a few groceries from a store that’s just too far away to bike to or picking up my wife when it’s too rainy for her typical 30-minute walk from grad school—those are both errands that an NEV could easily handle in a much more energy-efficient manner. 

People need to get places in cars. But in an ideal world, they’d do so while wasting as little extra energy as possible. That means not lugging around a few tons of extra metal when it isn’t necessary—and that’s where an NEV like the Microlino Lite shines. 

To be sure, small cars are not what Americans are buying right now. So the prospects are slim for the Microlino Lite to be a mega-hit. But interest in EVs is on the rise. And people are more aware than ever of the impending climate disaster that’s a direct consequence of humanity’s nasty habits. Plus, rising vehicle prices and high interest rates have car buyers stretched thinner than ever. 

So maybe NEVs have a future here if we SUV-craving Americans keep an open mind—and come to terms with looking a little silly. 

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