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By now, I’ve talked about a few microcars.  Most of them were foreign, and all of them were made decades ago.  Historically, microcars just haven’t caught on very well in US markets.  After lean times in World War II, Americans tended to go for the big, buff cars.  That trend has more or less carried us through to 2000.   The age of the SUV came and (kind of) went, with GMC management so certain they would profit forever from the gas-guzzlers that their motto was “our future’s so bright we’ve gotta wear shades.”  Well, our future might be a little brighter because of the hole in the ozone, but fuel efficiency is getting to be more important for consumers.

That’s what Toyota is banking on, at least, with their unveiling of the 2011 Scion iQ at the New York Auto Show.  The car (which has been selling under a different name and slightly different specs in Japan for a few years now) stands at 120 inches long with a wheelbase just under 79 inches.  It boasts a 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine that is expected to get about 100 horsepower.  The car fits “3+1” people, which apparently means a couple regular-sized adults, a child, and a pet goldfish.  If you get creative, I’m sure you can squeeze four (very friendly) people in it.

Scion iQ

The 2011 Scion iQ

One important feature has drawn people to bigger cars for years: safety.  We assume that we’re safe behind the wheels of humongous SUVs, and for the most part we’re right.  But the Scion iQ promises to deliver on that front, too.  The car boasts ten airbags, ABS panic control brakes, stability and traction control, and electronic steering.

Even with the iQ’s small size, don’t expect the legendary mpgs of the car’s predecessors; Toyota says it expects the car to get in the upper thirties.  With mileages increasing on cars across the board, we’ll have to see if that’s enough to be competitive.  You can expect the car to start below $15,000, with some estimates coming in around $12k.  The car will be available in the US in early 2011.

Does this signal a comeback of the microcar in the US?  If nothing else, this car sounds like it will offer some creature comforts and safety in a small package, which might help American consumers understand that bigger isn’t necessarily better.

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April 2010