Friday, August 21, 2009

i-Setta Again


BMW confirms Isetta revival

BMW looks set to break new ground with the addition of a daring new sub-brand that could take the fight to Smart and help dig the company out of its current financial rut. It’s a big ask of a small car that looks likely to draw it’s inspiration from the Isetta “bubble cars” of the 1950’s.

By Gareth Dean

In a statement released by BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer, he stated that "The Board has now decided: This auto (Project i/ Megacity Vehicle) will be launched on the market as a sub-brand of BMW. As BMW is the innovation driver within the Group, the decision for a sub brand [much like the company’s M-division] under BMW is the most logical step."

The idea of Project i/Megacity Vehicle has been doing the rounds for almost two years now, and basically involves BMW establishing a microcar that combines urban hipness with environmentally-friendly technology. The car is likely to glean a great deal of influence from BMW’s iconic 1955 Isetta “bubble car”, which featured a single front-opening door and a 10 kW motor. The new car, which could be sold under the brand name “i-Setta” will probably sport two doors and more powerful, fuel efficient engines with technologies such as direct-injection and start/stop likely to make an appearance.

On the face of it the revival of BMW’s Isetta brand is, in itself, a big development in the motor industry. But it’s only when taking into account the backdrop against which this new sub-brand is being launched that the significance of this move really becomes apparent.

BMW has not been immune to the global economic downturn, having posted a 76 per cent dip in its second-quarter profits as a result of consumers shying away from expensive cars, while further evidence of the company’s propensity towards tightening purse strings is evident in its imminent exit from Formula One.

There’s also little doubt that the company has paid great attention to the likes of Aston Martin, whose Cygnet microcar could well herald a previously unheard-of move towards more economical, volume-driven motoring. Likewise, Daimler’s Smart brand, despite its hit-and-miss success, has captured the hearts of many motorists and begins to look less and less absurd as petrol prices soar and emission regulations tighten.

So, while the likes of GM are desperately trying to shed brands (think Hummer and Saab), BMW is bravely broadening its portfolio by breaking into the virtually unknown realm of charismatic, city-going microcars without cannibalising sales from its other cute, pint-sized retro-mobile – the Mini.

It’s a big gamble, but in a market environment where the ability to diversify your product line up into the microcar niche is backed by the legacy of a car as friendly and recognizable as the Isetta, the chances are BMW could be on the verge of producing something very special.

In perhaps the most telling move of all, BMW has released a new Isetta video campaign to promote its museum. In essence, the company is reminding consumers about the Isetta before the launch of its new brand.

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