In this short article, I would like to tell you the story of how smart enabled his father to start the company.
A bit of basics about vehicle classes
Before we look at micro vehicles, the first question is what they are. There are two parameters that can be adjusted:
Vehicle classes according to the approval
According to the approval, the EU makes a lot of distinctions at first glance, but on closer inspection it becomes relatively easy. Practically every car belongs in the M1 class. This defines everything with four wheels made for passenger transport and a maximum of eight seats apart from the driver's seat. M2 and M3 describe the same class with a higher total weight and more seats.
Other classes are the N classes for goods transport from 3.5 tons total weight up to 12 tons. Then there are trailers, that is the O-class and for off-road vehicles the G-class, which then builds on the M or N. For example, the M1G applies to the Mercedes G-Class.
Aside from these four-wheeled classes, there are also light vehicles and multi-track vehicles. The latter is, for example, a tricycle, since the individual wheel does not follow the track of the other two wheels. From L1e (e.g. Pedelec) to various forms of motorcycles, it then goes up to L7e, and the Microlino falls into this L7e class. You can find his full Microlino review here.
Vehicle classes according to vehicle size
The EU also spells out vehicle size and shape. Starting with A for small cars (smart fortwo) through D for the middle class (VW Passat) to F for the luxury class (Porsche 911) and J for off-road vehicles (VW Tiguan). However, this is not about the approval of the vehicles and hardly any requirements for crash safety and accident avoidance systems. It is almost exclusively about the categorical classification of the vehicles.
Safety with the Microlino
The Microlino is not a car (M1), it is a quad bike (L7e). Above all, this helped to be able to build it more cheaply, since they have significantly simpler requirements for development in order to make it ready for series production approval. This is a great advantage, especially for a young company and especially for price-sensitive microcar segment. But it also means that ABS, ESP, airbags and similar safety measures are not mandatory. Of course you can still add them, but you don't have to. You have the opportunity to concentrate on what is important for the respective vehicle. In the case of the Mircolino, according to Oliver Ouboter, it was above all the stability of the front door. At this point, a big thanks to him for taking the time for me.
The door of the Microlino opens like the classic BMW Isetta and should therefore be as stable as possible, especially in the event of a front-end collision. So that even in the event of such an accident, you can still open them as easily as possible. It is also exciting to see that there have been huge advances from the Microlino 1.0 (which was never sold) to the Microlino 2.0. This is still a quad, but in terms of bodywork more of a car than many a car startup today. At a first glaze it could also be an M1 car.
Due to the L7e vehicle class, however, the entire vehicle must be lighter than 450 kg (excluding battery), may not drive faster than 90 km/h and have a peak output of 15 kW (20 hp).
The weight is a bottleneck here. Although it is without battery, it also limits how much safety can be built in addition to the obligation. Microlino has therefore made the best of it and, for example, been able to accommodate safety belts and the reinforced door with frame.
The 90 km/h and 15 kW also mean that you are constantly being overtaken by cars on cross-country trips. This is particularly detrimental to the perceived sense of security. You are allowed to drive on the autobahn, but you quickly realise that 90 km/h is not particularly comfortable there.
So register microcars as actual cars after all?
Of course, it would now be obvious to do what the smart fortwo, the founder of the small car segment, has been doing since the 1990st. The smart fortwo has been a legaly a car since day 1, fulfils all obligations and therefore also benefits from exceeding 450 kg. Also having more power available and being able to drive faster. Top models of the smart BRABUS fortwo already reach an impressive 165 km/h coming from the factory, and even faster with a little tuning.
But not only that the M1 class is significantly more complex to develop a vehicle for it. Over the years, the requirements have become increasingly hostile to small cars. A wonderful example are the smart series 450 (1998), 451 (2006) and 453 (2014):
What was once a 2.5 meter short sphere is now a 2.7 meter long cube. This is due to the ever-increasing requirements for pedestrian protection. In the event of a collision with a pedestrian, the pedestrian should be pushed over the vehicle, not under it. Which is why the front had to get longer and longer over the generations.
In the interior of the smart, too, one notices over the generations that safety measures are becoming ever more demanding. The entire interior has become narrower over the generations in order to have even more crash safety. Despite the fact that the smart has always been an extremely safe car. Mercedes wouldn't have brought it to series production if it hadn't managed to be as safe as an E-Class. That was the internal requirement at the time.
Particularly noteworthy is the shrinking interior space based on the trunk. What was 145 liters when it was introduced in 1998 was only 110 liters in 2006. In 2014 it then shrank by 5 more liters. However, in 2014 the trunk itself became bulkier, so that you can actually get significantly less in than before. Still 4-6 beverage crate, but that was a lot more in older generations.
That's why microcars are practically forbidden
The two Microlino founders did not have to think long before deciding how they could even put their vehicle on the road. They opted for the L7e class. And smart might have to make the hood even longer for the next fortwo. Possibly even significantly and without major advantages in terms of everyday usability or loading volume. Will the next fortwo then break the 3 meter mark? At the very least, it would make it more streamlined and efficient. But that's not actually not the purpose of such a small car.
PS: If anyone from smart is reading this article, the new fortwo should be called #1/2
With all these requirements, you are forced to let small cars get bigger. Which breaks what the small car segment is all about. Until it dies out completely.
Meanwhile, all of these requirements are playing into the hands of SUVs in particular. These have room for all these security measures anyway. In addition, customers here are much more open to high prices, since you get "more" car for the money here.
Conclusion and proposed solution
The world of microcars is a distinct and largely overlooked one. The purely objective sense of security also plays a major role here. In addition, most people are not willing to spend money "like they would for a real car" on small cars. Although even a small car has four wheels, plus all the safety measures and everything you need. But this must be able to pack in much less space. Building something smaller and smaller always costs more money than leaving the technology as is and not having to refine it further.
I often hear "SUVs must be banned", from the smart community in particular. But I disagree, even though I'm not a big fan of them myself. But banning them only leads to dissatisfaction with microcars and is extremely damaging to their image.
In my opinion, an M0 vehicle class is needed, which is based on the M1 class, but is limited to 1,250 kg (including battery), 125 kW, 150 km/h and 3 meters in length. So you would still have more than enough scope for more comfort, more fun and more small cars. But could, for example, adapt the crash safety and pedestrian protection to the lower weight and smaller size. Especially since today it is no longer just the shape of the vehicle. Many brake by themselves if they fear colliding with pedestrian could happen. Something like this could also be further refined to save vehicle size. Since you can also optimize electric cars much better for crash safety, for example, a large engine block does not have to slide past the passengers in the event of a crash, you could also limit it to fully electric cars.
One thing you have to keep in mind is that there is no such thing as 100% safety, no matter how much you build in to the car. You always have to weigh up how much still makes sense and when it starts being shooting at sparrows with cannons.
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