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Lightning strikes
AMC Amitron

Can a small electric city car come in an attractive shape? Not if you let the big manufacturers design it. However, when Italian design houses interfere it can be so, says Jeroen Booij.


The electric car isn’t new. In fact, the craze to electrify the worldwide rolling-stock is nothing more than recharging an old idea. Still, all big motor manufacturers are trumpeting about new electric city cars now. Problem is their concepts resemble vehicles for the disabled with their jumbo glasshouses, wedge noses and fake aerodynamic styling. Question is whether a small electric city car can come in an attractive shape at all.

Dick Teague proved it could, when he designed the Amitron for AMC in 1967. With its 50mph top, 150 miles range and Energy Regeneration Brake system (!), the Amitron was meant to be practical too. But dubbed ‘Voltswagon’, it never got beyond the prototype stage.

AMC Amitron
AMC Amitron

However, that same year, an Italian design house came with a vehicle to a similar concept at the Turin motor show. It was the Ghia designed Rowan Electric vehicle. The American Rowan company owned DeTomaso at the time and had a stake in Ghia too, so the collaboration might not have been too much of a surprise; the car never the less was. A 2+2 with three doors and two electric engines, it was good for a top speed of 75 km/h and a 320 kilometres range. Again, it never made production.

Ghia Rowan
Ghia Rowan

But then came the seventies, with their oil crises. And the idea of a small city car, independent of petrol, was rapidly dusted off again. All the major Italian carrozzerias tried their luck with this type of vehicle. Michelotti teamed up with British electric motor manufacturer Crompton to design a car for British Leyland, based on a shortened Mini but unsuccessful. They tried it again with the Michelotti Lem – for Laboratorio Elettrico Mobile, that, strangely, was designed by a journalist, Gianni Rogliatti. Again, it was no success.

Michelotti Leyland-Crompton
Michelotti Leyland Crompton

Michelotti LEM
Michelotti Lem

Then there was Zagato who’d been fiddling around with their tiny Milanina Elettrica and Elettrica Fiera Milano from 1972 on. Great timing, as for when the Arabs proclaimed an oil embargo, they were just about to launch the Zagato Zele. A six-Volts powered two-seater that borrowed plenty of parts from Fiat, but came in a totally seventies guise. Cooler then a Bond Bug, a total of around 500 examples is said to have been made between 1974 and 1976.

Zagato Zele
Zagato Zele

When the Middle East opened up the oil pipes again, the electric car disappeared as soon as it had re-entered the market, only to return every now and then when a new energy crisis addressed for. Zagato tried their luck in the early eighties with the ungainly Elletrica Minivan and there was the Giugiaro-designed Biga at the 1992 Turin Motor Show, but these too were not the success hoped for.

Zagato Elettrica Douglas
Zagato Elettrica Douglas

ItalDesign Biga
ItalDesign Biga

But now that the electric city car is hot once more, lightning strikes again at the surviving carrozzerias. While Zagato, once more, is working on their Volpe for years now, Pininfarina started working on the 130 km/h fast and very good looking Nido. It was supposed to sell under the Pininfarina brand, but they moved on with another project, the B0 (pronounced B-Zero). This more practical four door city car was born out of a collaboration with Bolloré and made its debut at the 2008 Paris Motor Show.

Pininfarina Nido
Pininfarina Nido

Bollore Pininfarina B0
Pininfarina Bolloré B0

But coolest of them all comes from Giugiaro. Its sold by the NICE (No Internal Combustion Engine) electric car company and named MyCar. It should go on sale in the UK later this year. With only 40 miles the range is pretty low, but standard equipment includes electric windows and mirrors, MP3-CD stereo and 14-inch alloys. All that for £8995, I’d say its smarter than a Smart.

Giugiaro NICE MyCar
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