By the beginning of the nineteen nineties the under one litre European ultralight economy car was almost extinct as manufacturers increasingly introduced cars in the super mini sector, the eastern European two stroke twins had faded away at the end of the eighties and the venerable Citroen 2CV having outlived all its related models was gone by nineteen ninety, the Renault R4 another long lived model only lasted a couple more years being the last of the small Renault's for a quarter of a century. It was left to Fiat who had taken over the FSM factory in Tychy, Poland, to make in addition to the Italian built Panda the only new ultralight economy car in Europe for most of the nineteen nineties, the Cinquecento in 1991, a front engined front wheel drive car that had the engine options of the overhead valve two cylinder unit from the 126 installed longitudinally and a 899 cc overhead valve four cylinder unit in the now conventional transverse layout. The Cinquecento was replaced by the Fiat Seicento in1998 again with the a 899 cc overhead valve four cylinder unit and the 1.1 litre overhead cam Fiat FIRE unit. It was produced until 2010 with over a million made in the first six years.The last of a long line of various BMC/Rover Mini models from the basic economy car to versions with ever increasing engine size designed to capitalise on its excellent handling and fancy body changes and names to appeal to those who were prepared to pay extra for extra glamour was produced in small numbers until 2000 bringing the total for all versions up to over five million. The only significant innovation in ultralight economy cars in Europe was the introduction of the Smart Fortwo, a two seat mid engined car in 1998 It was modern rendering of the mid engined ultralight economy car concept as advocated by Joseph Ganz in the 1930’s,. The Fortwo produced in Hambach, France, by the Smart division of Daimler AG, had a very high length to hight ratio being 1.5 metres high and only 2.5 metres long giving it a very squat appearance. The three cylinder turbocharged engine in sizes from 599cc to 799c and six speed gearbox was located transversely ahead of the de-Dion rear axle. The unitary chassis was in the form of a cage clothed with plastic panels similar to the manner of the Trabant. One point five million units were produced by 2013. By comparison the Asian ultralight car was going from strength to strength with frequent new or revised models. The list is so long that I can only make sense of it by relating it in date order. There were three new or revised models in 1990, Suzuki introduced the SS20 Cervo Mode, it was a three door hatchback with a 660cc three or four cylinder turbo charged engine, later available in unblown form.
In1993 Maruti in India produced a version called the Zen that was sold in Europe as the Suzuki Alto. Mitsubishi introduced the Toppo, a tall version of the Minica, an increasingly used devise to get more volume into the Kia car package. This version was produced until 2004. The Daihatsu Mira L200 was the third in the Mira line and had for the Japanese market engines up to 660cc some of them turbocharged. Versions sold in the rest of the world had a 847cc three cylinder engine and were marketed as the Daihatsu Cuore. 1991 saw one new model, in South Korea Daewoo produced the Tico based on the 1988 Suzuki Alto. It had 796cc three cylinder engine. It was produced there until 1997, but production had started in Warsaw Poland and Asaka Uzbekistan in 1996 and would commence in Romania making it truly a world car. In1992 Subaru produced in Yokohama Japan the Vivio a hatchback in the Kia car mould replacing the Rex. With a range of 658cc four cylinder engines available from single overhead camshaft to turbocharged and double overhead camshafts and a range of transmissions from three or five speeds, automatic and CTV gear boxes. Daihatsu introduced the Opti Mk1 hatchback based on the Mira L200 platform and made this version until 1998. Suzuki first produce the Wagon R in Indonesia in 1993, a tall Kia car with a 660cc engine. It was also sold as the Mazda AZ Wagon. Later versions of the Wagon R would be produced around the world and five million produced by 2010. The seventh version of the Mitsubishi Minica was introduced in 1993 with a new body and a range of advanced engines, this was made until 1998. The 1994 the fourth generation Daihatsu Mira L500 with a 660cc engines in Japan produced in Japan and Pakistan, the L501 Coare outside and Charade Centro in Australia, with a 847cc three in the rest of the world. The Malaysian company Perodua produced its first model the Kencil also called the Nippa in the Uk and the Daihatsu Ceria in Indonesia in 1994. It was developed from the third generation Mira. It was available with a 659cc or 847cc engine, both Daihatsu three’s. Over seven hundred thousand had been produced by 2009 and its replacement. In 1995 Suzuki introduced the fourth edition of the Alto and Daihatsu introduced the Move L600. It was Daihatsu’s take on the tall Kia car with a 658cc engine for Japan and a 847cc engine for export. In the same year Perodua introduced the Kenari, based on the Move it had a 989cc DOHC three cylinder engine and was made until 2009. In 1997 Honda replaced the Today with their answer to the Wagon R, a new tall model using the name Life and the components of the latest Today and was only produced for eighteen months due to changes in regulations.
Suzuki Wagon R
Also in the same year a relatively new but important maker first introduced a ultralight economy car Hyundai with the Atos. Marketed using various names around the world such as Hyundai Amica / Atoz in the UK, Hyundai Atoz in Indonesia, Hyundai Santro Xing in India, Dodge Atos in Mexico Inokom Atos and Inokom Atos Prima in Malaysia and Kia Visto in South Korea. It was assembled South Korea, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Egypt and Pakistan to service these markets. A conventional five door hatchback with a four cylinder 999cc engine, it proved popular and wasn’t replaced until 2007 and remained in production much later in some markets. Also in 1997 Suzuki introduced the Wagon R Wide, this wasn’t a Kia car and a one litre and 1.2 litre engine was available.The Subaru replaced the Vivio with a tall Kia car the Pleo in 1998 that remained in production until 2010. It was available with various specifications of 658cc four cylinder engines. 1998 was a busy year, Daihatsu introduced two new model, a version of the Opti and a new Mira the L700. The L700 model was available in four wheel drive as well as front wheel drive as had all previous Mira’s and many of the other Kia cars on the market. By this time a top spec’ Kia car was a very complex machine. A new enlarged version of the Honda Life was introduced with improved safety features, this version was made until 2003. Suzuki introduced the fifth generation of the Alto which was produced in Japan from 1998 to 2004. It was sold as Changian Zen, Mazda Carol and Chevrolet Alto with a one litre engine, in various markets. Daewoo replaced the Tico with the Matiz in 1998. The Matiz was a re-engineered Tico with a new italian designed body. The eight generation of the Mitsubishi Minica was enlarge to take advantage of new Kia car regulations, it was in production until 2011. A second generation Daihatsu Move the L900 was introduced in 1999, Daihatsu also introduced the Mira Gino a retro styled car based on the fifth generation Mira and was produced until 2004. As many of the models referred to in this text have been two seat cars with a one litre engine I don’t think it is going too far to include a model introduced by Honda in 1999. The Insight could be seen as another step forward in the technically advanced small Japanese car, the addition of the hybrid system being just another step. Unfortunately the technology has been diverted to the large car sector since the demise of the first Insight in 2006 and has not been pursued in the ultralight car sector since.