So, What’s So Great About The Trabant nT Electric Car? | IAA Frankfurt Motor Show

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In the days when Ronnie was in the White House, penis envy ruled the superpowers’ nuclear arms race and David Hasslehoff was the west’s epitome of “cooool,” one car kept communist Europe running…

The Trabant. There was nothing this little runabout wouldn’t do to be cheap.

Its engine, a 600cc two stroke, would outperform your neighbour’s lawnmower… just. The fuel tank was *in* the engine; to refuel you opened the hood and splashed petrol around right next to a red-hot carburetor.

Even the bodywork was superior: the Trabant was made predominantly of plastic… it may not take an impact as well as metal, but at least is didn’t rust!

Today’s Trabant

Today, the Trabant is making a comeback. The IAA Frankfurt Motor Show 2007 saw the launch of a concept and 2009 saw a working prototype take the stage. It could be ready for sale as soon as 2012.

It’s being developed by an unlikely combination of specialist car manufacturer IndiKar, the former Volkswagen designer Nils Poschwatta and the leading miniatures manufacturer, Herpa.

But is there anything to differentiate the Trabant from its competitors?

Well, styling to start with. The Trabant has always had an uncanny resemblance to its western counterpart, the Mini and this new electric Trabant is far more pleasing on the eye that BMW’s take on the Volkswagen classic.

Then there’s the innovative solar roof. Many electric cars carry an additional 12V battery in order to power SatNav, heating and other low-voltage “necessities.”

Not the Trabant. These will all be powered by its solar roof and, quite bluntly, if there isn’t enough sun then your air-con won’t work. Who needs air-con when it’s cloudy anyway?

Bottom Of The Market – Best Place To Be

And all of this is, unashamedly, delivered on the cheap. The new Trabant nT is not a rival to Mercedes or Rolls Royce. It doesn’t even compete with Ford.

It’s a simple, no-nonsense electric car which will go both forwards and backwards, and may power other electric appliances if the sun is shining.

For an estimated $1.5/night to charge, you get a top speed of 80mph and a maximum range 100 miles. These aren’t astounding figures, but that’s exactly the point.

If you can get an average-performing car on the cheap, then why bother with a more expensive car with similar performance?

As the recession bites and rising oil prices squeeze financial belts tighter, this bottom of the range get-up-and-go vehicle may well be an instant hit. A true “car of the people,” keeping the population mobile for as little cost as possible.

Picture Credit: Bonnie Alter.

Chris Milton

is a seasoned sustainability journalist focusing on business, finance and clean technology. His writing's been carried by a number of highly respected publishers, including The Guardian, The Washington Post and Scientific American. You can follow him on twitter as @britesprite, where he's one of Mashable's top green tweeters and Fast Company's CSR thought leaders. Alternatively you can follow him to the shops... but that would be boring.