Will Small Urban Cars Ever Take Off?

In an industry in which the battle cry has long been “bigger is better”, small urban vehicles seem to have almost been forgotten. But the automotive industry is evolving, and tastes are changing more quickly than anyone could have expected. Suddenly, small urban cars – a term which encompasses everything from three-wheelers to smart cars – are starting to seem a lot more attractive.

As with any major purchasing decision, there are pros and cons to choosing a small urban car. For example, they’re often cheaper to run due to being more fuel-efficient, and they can squeeze into tighter parking spaces and find gaps in traffic that other cars couldn’t navigate. On the downside, they’re not always the most stylish of vehicles, and due to their relative rarity, it can be difficult to find spare parts or qualified mechanics.

But will they ever penetrate the mainstream and become a common sight on roads around the world, and in built up urban areas in particular? Well, that depends!

The Benefits Of Small Urban Cars

One thing that we need to remember is that transport is changing, especially over the last 5-10 years or so thanks to disruptive new services like Zipcar and, most notably of all, Uber. At the same time, people are becoming increasingly environmentally-conscious, and younger generations in particular are doing what they can to reduce their impact on the environment.

Smaller cars have the advantage of being portable and maneuverable and could be a better solution than carpooling and public transport. Also, some three-wheelers, such as the Toyota i-Road, are electrical, adding to their sustainability. Their size would also increase parking spaces and reduce traffic congestion. Sure, if you’re the drummer in a band and you’re driving from gig to gig, a small urban car won’t be enough to transport your kit. But if you’re looking for the easiest vehicles in which to get from point A to B, especially in a crowded city, these tiny vehicles have got a lot going for them.

The Drawbacks

Arguably the main drawback of driving a small urban car is that they’re just not seen as “cool”. Perhaps one day we’ll see James Bond behind the wheel of a Smart, or Renault Twizy but for the moment, there’s a distinct public perception that small urban cars will need to overcome if they want to be taken seriously. But we can bet that the R&D and marketing departments at small vehicle manufacturers are already working on it.

Many of these vehicles are also surprisingly expensive, perhaps because the used market isn’t as active as it is for major vehicle models like the Ford Fiesta, for example. Given the choice between a three-wheeler and a hatchback, most people would go for the hatchback if it meant saving a bunch of money and embarrassment, as these three wheel vehicles are often associated with Jeremy Clarkson and Top Gear.

Photo attribution:  ‘kenjonbro’ licensed under  Creative Commons NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

So the big question that still remains is, “Will small urban cars ever take off?” And it’s a difficult one to answer, mainly because there are so many variables.

On top of that, it’s likely that whatever ultimately happens will be dictated by the market. After all, that’s how capitalism works. Still, if recent trends are anything to go by, it seems as though urban cars will play an important role in our future, especially as more and more of the world is urbanized and we place more of an emphasis on electric vehicles and those with lower fuel consumption.

One thing’s for sure – it’s going to be interesting to find out.

Giles Kirkland, an experienced car expert, is passionate about all wheeled vehicles. He loves researching various aspects of the auto industry and tech, from cyber security in self-driving cars to science behind electric car batteries. Giles’s articles are available on his Twitter and Oponeo blog.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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