The trend of cars growing increasingly larger with each passing generation has really hit a peak with the Mini brand. While the original car measured just over three meters in overall length when it was first introduced, the latest addition to the range, the five-door Countryman, is nearly 4.1 meters long. That’s a strong contrast to the ingenious four-person package Sir Alec Issigonis introduced back in 1959.
But there is also a trend to downsize vehicles as well — Smart’s new ForFour is actually 190mm shorter than the last model developed in partnership with Mitsubishi (3590mm vs 3752mm long) in 2004. And now it appears there may actually be some respite to this growing phenomenon that’s affecting the Mini brand as well.
According to CAR magazine’s Georg Kacher, Mini could actually be returning to its roots with a new small car. Kacher’s article mentions design: “Early styling exercises show an exciting three-door hatch which combines Paceman and Rocketman (the 2011 concept) overtones with fresh proportions and plenty of new details such as a double-bubble rear roof section, upright split Union Jack taillights, a small trapezoidal grille and blacked-out pillars.”
He also writes that BMW, Mini’s parent company, “is planning to co-develop the baby Mini with Toyota”, which would enable both companies to share components and save costs, which would hopefully trickle down toward the consumer.
All of this sounds promising enough, but what happened to sales of the brilliant little Toyota iQ, a compact car I always thought was the modern reincarnation of the Mini, albeit with a Japanese badge? And why has Toyota decided to discontinue iQ sales in Europe, where compact cars arguably make the most sense?
Peter Stevens made a point in his column a few weeks ago questioning whether the car was “Growing up or just growing?” In reality it’s a little bit of both. There are a number of different factors at play which determine the size of a car — more people want more things in their vehicles these days; people themselves are bigger; and safety standards aren’t what they were in 1959. But that doesn’t mean people don’t want smaller cars.
As Stevens points out, many students believe that “new small cars should be smaller”, but perhaps the business case just isn’t there for car companies seeking to maximize profits. With a collaboration — as BMW’s already successfully achieved with Toyota through sharing engine technology — the costs associated with developing a new platform and the risks associated with the new car’s success are decreased significantly.
Let’s just hope it works out.
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