How compact electric vehicles could challenge the dominance of SUVs

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Source: The Guardian

The Guardian reports on driving through the streets of central London in a diminutive Microlino electric car, as its petite frame contrasts sharply with the towering SUVs, it draws an unexpected amount of attention. Passersby cheerfully nicknamed the vehicle “Lego car.”

A quirky innovation from Micro

Made by Micro, the Swiss family-owned company renowned for its mini-micro kick scooters, the Microlino embodies the retro charm of 1950s bubble cars. Measuring a mere 2.5 meters in length—just marginally smaller than a Smart car—it boasts a unique front door and a rear hatch for accessing the boot. Its innovative design, with the windscreen and bonnet swinging open, facilitates seamless entry and exit.

Challenging the dominance of SUVs

As the Microlino makes its debut in the UK market, it defies the prevailing trend favouring larger vehicles, particularly SUVs. Despite environmental concerns and warnings from experts, SUVs accounted for nearly half of global car sales in 2023, marking a significant shift towards larger, heavier automobiles.

In the congested streets of London, the Microlino stands out, attracting countless double takes, waves, and laughter. Cyclists engage in conversations at traffic lights, while even bus drivers pause to offer enthusiastic gestures of approval. Its manoeuvrability makes it ideal for urban navigation, although its range of 136 miles and top speed of 56mph allow for occasional longer trips.

Parking snugly between luxury vehicles like Bentleys and Land Rover Defenders in affluent London districts exemplifies the Microlino’s adaptability. Despite the prevalence of SUVs, in these areas including Chelsea, a posh area of London that gave name to the “Chelsea tractors”, compact cars like the Microlino find their place.

Factors driving the trend towards larger cars

The reach of SUV’s go far beyond affluent areas. David Bailey, a professor of business economics at the University of Birmingham, explored the various factors contribute to the proliferation of larger vehicles, including customer demand for spacious interiors and a commanding view of the road. Regulatory requirements, such as safety features and emissions control systems, also influence car sizes, with smaller vehicles facing higher production costs.

Environmental implications of car size

The expansion of car sizes poses significant environmental challenges, with larger vehicles consuming more fossil fuels and emitting higher levels of carbon dioxide. Additionally, the production of electric SUVs requires substantial quantities of minerals, hindering decarbonization efforts. Moreover, larger vehicles contribute to increased tire pollution and pedestrian fatalities, particularly among women and children.

Trends towards smaller electric vehicles

The imminent launch of smaller, more affordable electric models, such as the Renault 5 and the Dacia Spring, offers promise for accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels. However, limited offerings from major manufacturers hinder progress, with only a few ventures into the realm of truly compact electric cars.

China emerges as a dominant force in the market for tiny electric cars, leveraging cheap lithium iron phosphate batteries to produce affordable models like the Geometry Panda, Mini EV, and Baojun Yep. These compact vehicles offer SUV styling in a compact package, reflecting a growing trend towards smaller, more efficient transportation solutions.

Microlino’s vision

Merlin Ouboter, the driving force behind the Microlino project, envisions a future where compact, efficient vehicles like the Microlino revolutionize urban transportation. Designed for short-distance travel, the Microlino aims to address the majority of daily commuting needs while promoting shared mobility solutions for longer journeys.

Policy interventions for sustainable transport

Advocates like James Nix emphasize the need for policy interventions to promote sustainable transportation practices. Measures such as higher parking fees for large vehicles and increased sales taxes can help mitigate the growing size of cars and encourage the adoption of more environmentally friendly alternatives. Emulating successful initiatives implemented in countries like France could pave the way for a more sustainable evolution of the European car fleet.


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