Green Update: No Market for Small City Cars in the U.S.?

Fiat Panda, front

CNNMoney ran a recent piece on six Detroit dinosaurs that are, or should be, on the way out. They included truck-platform SUVs like the Tahoe, muscle cars like the Mustang, all Lincolns and the Chrysler 200. Yes, send them all to the cruncher.

One of the cars on their list was the Chevy Volt, whose sales are ridiculously low and whose price is ridiculously high. Since GM totally bungled the production and marketing of this car, maybe the concept can be rethought and reduced in size and price. There is no way this car in its present form can take on the Prius.

American carmakers are still fighting to preserve the past in some of their offerings, and to be sure, the U.S. market will not change overnight. But why can’t some of the decent, long-tested small cars of Europe be brought here—at least to the urban car market?

Instead of giving us junk like the Nitro, why doesn’t Chrysler import the Fiat Panda (above), a great small funky wagon-hatch that has been a hit for 30 years in Europe and around the world?

Audi Urban eTron conceptThe new Panda, showing at Frankfurt in September, has fairly low-power, high-mileage (64-70 mpg) engine choices, including diesel. But do you really need more than 68 hp in the city? Do you need to fit more than five people in a flexible interior package?

VW Up!Audi went a little crazy with its Urban eTron Concept electric (31-37-mile range), and it has produced several computerized iterations (one shown here). There are shots of this dune buggy in disguise driving the streets of Berlin. With tandem seats and a power source still unknown, Road & Track guesses it will use a small diesel feeding an electric motor.

Which will make it totally impractical for anything but taking your chica to the nearest watering hole.

And finally, what might be the true successor to the Beetle is apparently going to be built. It’s called the Up! (right) and even though it’s a front-driver, the car comes close to a modern-day version of a low priced, well-thought out people’s car.

Again, the engines are low-power and high-mileage, and an electric e-Up! is due in 2013. The car is sharp-looking, with lots of trunk space and plenty of standard stuff like stability control. Three trims will be offered, and we predict VW will sell a lot of them.

Says TopSpeed: “The Up! manages to come across as a heavily designed compact car that takes elements from traditional Volkswagen styling while also crafting a personality all its own.” Cost is still to be revealed.

If Volkswagen sold the Up! in the U.S., would you be interested in buying one?


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  1. The big problem is that these EUROPEAN and ASIAN city cars are not designed for US cities. Have you ever been to European cities like Paris? Not even New York City compares.
    American city cars will be a bit bigger, like the Chevy Cruze or the Ford Focus. Because of our expressways and highways, our city cars will also have a bit more power and less economy. (We also don’t have to pay $7/gallon for gas.)
    So I would disagree that Americans are not buying city cars– they are. They’re just not buying foreign city cars, they’re buying American city cars.

  2. I thought we buried the sardine can discussion years ago, but somehow it continues to persist by auto scribes and government officials pushing a “green” agenda. The only places this might have some appeal, and then only by early adopters who are green to their bone marrow, is in a giant megalopolis where parking space is limited and the commute takes at least an hour. In many shopping centers where the owners installed charging stations, we are finding that they are taking them out from lack of use. “Sales” of EVs have languished from the very beginning even with gargantuan government subsidies. 2700 Volts have been purchased, mostly by government agencies and Leafs aren’t doing much better.

    Far more exciting is the development of super fuels that have the energy equivalent of gasoline and are far more efficient than the dreaded ethanol fiasco, which our government continues to fund. But even this is years away. As long as development costs and battery technology remain stubbornly high, we aren’t going to see much movement on the part of John Public towards purchase of these vehicles. For now Senor, I would like to see more articles on “real” cars that have adopted the hybrid model such as Prius, Camry, and the Sonata/Optima hybrid twins. What’s wrong with 40 mpg real cars?? As an avowed Conservationist, I would prefer to make America “green” this way rather than the esoteric, expensive unaffordable sardine cans that are being pushed for reasons of patriotism and reliance on Mideast Oil.

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