I was walking through a small lane near Andheri, Mumbai inhabited by its denizens in typical Mumbai fashion. A small child was using his imagination and building something which resembled a motor car. He was letting his imagination loose and using almost everything the adults of the house had discarded. Paper, old card-board boxes, oil can’s all made up for this “little Henry Ford’s” imagination. I must confess, I was inspired to write this article by looking at the child.
Microcars is my interest area and I collect die-cast models of this theme. My interest in this subject made me study the origin & subsequent growth of this genre of motor vehicles.
Like most major inventions in the world, the origin & growth of microcars can also be attributed to times of conflict. The world war led to situations that made the citizens of these conflict driven countries think like the little child in Andheri.
In this article, I look at the three main reasons for the growth of microcars:
1. Economic reasons caused by availability of excess capacity
2. Shortages - both in materials & fuel
3. Geo-political reasons caused by geographic divides and political tensions
4. Policy regulations
I shall use the examples of a few popular microcars to elaborate the points, that I have stated above.
The end of the World-War II in 1945 led to a fall in demand for planes and also restrictions imposed on Germany for manufacturing war planes led them to think of ways of using their excess capacity.
Fritz Fend was an aeronautical engineer who had built a machine for transporting wounded soldiers from the war. Messerschmitt, a famous manufacturer of war planes during the war was fighting for survival after the war and barely surviving by manufacturing unrelated items like sewing machines, merely to utilise capacity and survive. They tied up with Fritz Fend leading to manufacture of the famous Messerschmitt range of microcars.
Heinkel another German aircraft manufacturer also facing similar situation tied up with another aircraft designer to come up with the Heinkel Kabine microcar. If you see both these cars the influence of aircraft design is unmistakable.
Italian Engineer Renzo Rivolta saw the potential of the growth in mobility modes after the world war and along with design engineer Pierluigi Raggi, created a microcar called Isetta. This car despite its advanced design did not do well in Italy and the company was fighting for survival. Meanwhile in Germany, BMW was fighting its own survival battle and facing the prospects of bankruptcy. BMW licenced the Isetta and thus was born the BMW-Isetta. It sold almost 100000 cars and saved BMW. The rest as they say is history….