Olivier Oubouter, Microlino: "Ready to start road-testing our first pre-production car"
The Swiss electric bubble car Microlino could succeed where the Renault Twizy has failed.
What started in 2015 as a PR gig with no real production plans, today has landed its type approval and registered no less than 10,000 orders worth over 125 million euro. The usage scenarios for this electric bubble car are plentiful – and so is the interest from the fleet industry. Fleet Europe talked to Olivier Ouboter (pictured on the right), COO and test driver at Micro Mobility Systems AG, now that the company has just produced its first pre-series vehicle.
From PR gig to 10,000 reservations: what’s the story behind this remarkable project?
Olivier Ouboter: “At the beginning, we - my father Wim, my brother Merlin and I - really didn’t think we would actually produce a vehicle. We built one prototype to show our vision of future mobility at the 2016 Geneva motor show. As kind out of a joke, we said that if we got 500 reservations, we would actually produce the car. Within four days we had our 500 reservations, so we took it to the next step.”
How did you go from idea to production?
OO: “We formed a joint venture with the Italian company Tazzari, who have been building urban electric vehicles for more than 10 years. They have a lot of experience and they will basically be responsible for the more technical aspects of the vehicle, while we are very focused on design and user experience and will also be the ones covering the sales and marketing."
A few months ago, you received your official type approval for Europe. That must have been quite an ordeal for a small company like Micro Mobility System?
OO: “Indeed, if you have only a small team it’s really difficult to comply with all the regulations while still keeping the product as you envisioned it. Moreover, this vehicle category is a mix between motorbike and car, which means that some regulations are a little bit weird, especially regarding the minimum distance between blinkers and headlights. In general, the automotive industry is very regulated, which is why it is mainly very big companies that build cars and so for us a small player, that’s certainly a challenge.”
As an L7E quadricyle, the Microlino carries a motor license plate and can be driven on the motorway, right?
OO: ”Yes, but there are some local differences. You need a regular driver’s license to drive it and generally you can travel on motorways, except in Italy. Of course, the Microlino is not a classic highway car, but it’s good to know that you’re not limited in any way in other countries. We designed the car to fit 95 percent of average use cases. Usually there are two people in a car and you drive about 35 km per day. For these small distances, a standard 5-seater car is way over-engineered and way too heavy.”
Renault offers a version of the Twizy that you can drive with a category A3 scooter license. Do you have similar plans?
OO: “At some point, yes. First, we wanted to create the first lifestyle product in the category of L7E vehicles, which mainly consists of unsexy creations. In a second step, we will think about making the Microlino accessible to people without a driver’s license, by creating a 45 km/h-model. The lack of a driver’s license should not withhold them from liking and considering the Microlino. It is a sexy thing on wheels – and that’s a major USP in the quadricyle category.”
You already have over 10,000 pre-orders. When will you start building them?
OO: “The first pre-production vehicle just rolled off the assembly line. It is street-legal, so we can test it on public roads. We will start series production early 2019, at the Tazzari plant in Bologna. Next year we expect an output of between 1,000 and 1,500 cars. We’ll focus mainly on Switzerland next year, followed by Germany. We also notice a strong interest from the French market. We don’t want to spread out too quickly, though. Depending on how it goes, we can ramp up production to 15 – 20,000 vehicles by 2021.”
Have you already been approached by leasing companies or car sharing platforms? Is this the industry you want to be in?
OO: “Definitely. The Microlino would fit perfectly into user car sharing schemes and B2B scenarios. We have a lot of B2B customers that are interested in getting a Microlino for their fleets, because they see that currently it’s the only type of vehicle that does short distances perfectly. It has a pretty good marketing effect. If your fleet acts in the way you are advertising, I think that’s pretty smart. We are open to work with new partners as well.”
Do you think it would make sense for your company to start its own mobility services, or will you remain a vehicle producer?
OO: “There are already quite a lot of established players in this field. So personally, I don’t really think that it makes much sense for us to enter the game. We will be working with partners and do what we are best at, which is developing and producing great products. Our partners can focus on operating the actual fleet.”
The first pre-production Microlino in Paris Mint. Copyright: Microlino, 2018