As the major European auto manufacturers mostly withdrew from the ultralight economy car market there emerged a range of vehicles produced to conform to the a european union directive of 1992 on the motorised quadricycle, that in specification and performance resemble the very small cars of the nineteen fifties and sixties such as for example the German Lloyd and Goggomobile and the first and second Fiat 500’s. Usually with two and sometimes four seats coupe bodies with engines around 500cc. Produced by Legier, Microcar, Aixam, in France and by Grecav in Italy and others, front wheel drive is universal, often with two cylinder diesel engines. With speeds up to 60mph and fuel consumption at 70 mpg their performance compares favourably with their predecessors but as with those older cars safety standards are not what we have come to expect from modern cars detracting from their desirability. Some manufacturers of motorised quadricylces have produced electric versions of their cars. This takes us to the other emerging branch of ultralight cars or more correctly re-emerging as the electric car was the original ultralight or town car. The long but sparse history of the electric car begins well over a hundred years ago, the peak of its popularity was about 1900. Being clean and easy to drive the electric car had a short period in fashion for use in British and American ultra light’s being considered suitable for women to drive. The first car designed by the creator of the Volkswagen Ferdinand Porsche was an electric car the Lohner Porsche Chaise, this was in Vienna. The very low speed and short range of the car of only thirty two miles was not considered sufficient so that in his next car he replaced the batteries with a petrol engine and a generator to power the wheel mounted electric motors. Batteries are the weak link in the electric car and it the development of advanced batteries that has led to it being considered again as a viable form of ultralight transport. There have been many prototype electric ultralight car usually based on existing ultralight car but only in the decades I will come to later has this led to production cars. Also there have been electric ultralight cars produced but only in small numbers one being the british Enfield 8000 with about a hundred made between 1969 and 1971 who’s high price and limited rang killed it. Other recent models have been the Norwegian designed Think, some of which have been produced from 1995 in Norway, the USA and Finland but by March 2011 production had stopped due to financial problems. The Indian made Revai known as the G-Wiz in the UK, in production from 2001to 2012, has made some impact on the british mainly London market and is classed as a heavy motorised quadricycle in the UK and it shares with the others of the class very low safety standards.
By the beginning of the new century the Kia cars of Japan and their larger engined export versions had grown into very sophisticated machines, mostly with three cylinder double overhead-camshaft, multi-point injected engines, some available turbocharged. Front engines were universal with transmission options of two or four wheel drive, manual five speed, automatic or CVT gearboxes. In 2000 Suzuki introduced the MR Wagon a Tall Kia car, to the Japanese maker, it was sold as the Nissan Moco and this version was produced until 2006. Mitsubishi also produced a similar model in that year the EK again for the Japanese market that is slill in production in2014 after a couple of updates. From 2005 it was also sold as the Nissan Oti. Three new models were produced in 2002, The Honda Thats, that was a tall Kia car based on the Life platform that was produced until 2006, the third generation of the Daihatsu Move the L150l/L260 and Suzuki introduced the Lapin a five door hatchback that was also marketed as the Mazda Spiano. In 2003 a third generation Suzuki Wagon R and Honda Life began production and Subaru introduced an all new R2 model an up to date Kia car that was made until 2010. Daihatsu added another tall Kia car to its range the Tanto, which had normal doors on one side and a large sliding door on the other. An updated version was still in production in 2014. In 2005 Subaru introduced the R1. a shortened two door version of the R2 that was produced until 2010. Daihatsu introduced the five door four seat hatchback Kia car the Esse which was at that time the cheapest new car available in Japan and was made until 2011. 2006 was a good year for new models, Subaru introduced the Stella a tall five door Kia car based on the R2, Daihatsu introduced two updated models the Mira L275/285and the Move L175/185 and the short lived Sonica Kia car only produced for four years. Suzuki reintroduced the Cervo name with the HG 215, an Alta based well appointed Kia car. Honda introduced the Zest a Kia car based on the fifth generation Life model. The above were all the reworking of existing models and concepts but the Mitsubishi i was something completely new. A long wheelbase four door Kia car, like the Smart Fortwo It was modern rendering of the mid engined ultralight economy car concept as advocated by Joseph Ganz in the 1930’s, only this time with a unitary chassis and eliminated the failings of the swing axle by also using a De-Dion axle and final drive. As first conceived it was not a sales success and in the eight years it was produced less than ninety thousand were sold. As I will relate later the concept would prove ideal for electric cars.
Suzuki introduced two new models in 2008, the fourth in the line of Wagon R’s with an updated body and another tall Kia car this time with sliding rear doors the Palette, which was also sold as the Nissan Roox and Mazda Flair Wagon. Honda began producing the fifth generation of the Life. In 2009 Suzuki introduced the seventh version of the Alto and Daihatsu introduced the Tanto exe another tall Kia car that was also sold as the Subaru Lucra from 2010. Bringing the list as up to date as I can, in 2012 Suzuki introduced the latest the fifth generation of the Kia Wagon R and Honda replaced the R2 with a new model the N-one fitted with Honda’s latest engine and transmission. Models that had been superseded in Japan were being produced all over Asia by local companies for local consumption and in some cases export, for example In India in 2000 production began of the Maruti Alto, based on the fifth generation Alto, with the 796 cc Suzuki F8D engine, becoming India’s best selling hatchback, In 2001 Perodua produced the Kalisa which was based on the L700 Mira and in 2007 the Viva based on the seventh generation Mira with engines from 659 cc to 989 cc. The failed car-maker Daewoo was taken over by General Motors in 2002 and car produced after were rebadged as Chevrolet’s, the second generation Matiz appeared in 2005 with many revisions, it was sold as the Spark in some markets and was produced until 2009 in South Korea; but was still made in the many assembly plants else were after that date. It was replaced by a super-mini sized model that is sold as the Spark. The Chinese company Chery began the production of their QQ model in 2003 with claims from General Motors that is it was a reverse engineered copy of their Matiz. It was renamed the QQ3 in 2006 and has been assembled through out the world in Russia, Iraq. Indonesia and Iran as well as production in China. An all new model was first produced by Maruti Suzuki in India in 2008 the Maruti A Star, fitted with the 998 cc three-cylinder K10B engine that was developed especially for the new car. It has been sold around the world under various names such as Nisan Pixo, Chaungu- Suzuki Alto, Suzuki Celerio and Suzuki Alto. Where the A Star was at the sophisticated end of the ultralight economy spectrum the other new Indian car first produced that year the Tata Nano, was at the other end looking back to the simple machines of nineteen fifties, being very similar in size and weight to the original Fiat Nuova 500. Like the 500 it has a twin cylinder engine rear mounted but now with a single overhead camshaft and multi point injected and a four speed manual transmission, with a maximum speed of 105 km/h it is said to be the cheapest car in the world today. Astra Daihatsu a part of the Toyota group of companies in Indonesia designed a new city car to fit in with a low price initiative of the government, using a simplified version of an existing engine in a five door hatchback. On sale from 2012 as the Toyota Agya or Daihatsu Agya in Indonesia and in the Philippines as the Toyota Wigo.
At the beginning of the new century there were only three ultralight economy cars in production in Europe, the Smart Fortwo and Fiat’s Seicento or 600 and Panda models. The Panda was soon to be replaced by a new larger model of the same name with a range of larger engine available in effect becoming a supermini. The first new ultralight economy cars of the decade were the result of a joint venture by the PSA Peugeot Citroen and Toyota, who established a new factory at Koln in the Czech Republic to produce a city car. Utilising Japanese ultralight economy cars technology in the form of the Daihatsu/Toyota 1KR-FE engine a state of the art one litre unit. The 1KR-FE is a Daihatsu three cylinder design with double overhead camshafts with variable valve timing operating four valves per cylinder and multi point fuel injection with electronic engine management meeting the latest european emission standards.The result was the Peugeot 107, Citreon C1, and Toyota Aygo models badge engineered versions of the same design of front wheel drive three door hatchback first introduced in 2005. The 998 cc 1KR-FE produced 68 PS and a lower powered 1.4 litre diesel engined version was also available. After being updated in 2009 and 2012 they were replaced in 2014 by a new model who’s major change is a restyled body and trim and in the case of the Peugeot a revised name now being the Peugeot 108. Another change is the inevitable option of a1.2 litre engine, the diesel option having been dropped. It was a long wait until the next new ultralight economy car was produced in Europe 2011, but well worth the wait and again in came in three’s. The VW Up, the Seat Miil and the Skoda Citygo are again badge engineered versions of the same design produced in Volkswagens plant at Bratislavia in Slovakia utilising Volkswagen Groups new small family platform and a new three cylinder one litre engine to create a conventional front wheel drive three door hatchback. Production of the Up began in Brazil in 2013. Renault and the Smart division of Daimler AG had been working on a completely different approach to creating a four seat city car by adopting the rear engined rear wheel drive layout of the Smart Fortwo in a normally proportioned platform combined with an all new Renault engine the three cylinder one litre SCe 70 unit mounted transversely in the manner of the NSU Prinz of the 1950’s. Said to share 70 % of common components the Renault Twingo and the Smart Forfour were first produced in 2014 at Novo Mesto, Slovenia.
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