Drive

Making small cool

Renault launched the Twizy with a celebrity-backed marketing campaign. — Picture courtesy of RenaultRenault launched the Twizy with a celebrity-backed marketing campaign. — Picture courtesy of RenaultPARIS, April 18 — Single-seater vehicle have been around for decades — with a range of players getting in on the phenomenon from Clive Sinclair with the Sinclair C5 to BMW’s Isetta or the Peel Trident, the world’s smallest production car.

The vehicles have been met with various degrees of success, although none have ever managed to achieve mainstream appeal, often saddled with low speeds, embarrassing designs, safety worries, a bad reputation or a combination of all four.

In recent years though, the indications have been that things are starting to change.

Last week, Renault launched the Twizy into UK showrooms, Britain becoming the latest European market to get its hands on the motorcycle/car crossover which the French brand believes can boost its all-electric presence in the city.

The Twizy is backed by a high-profile marketing campaign starring nightlife and music personalities Cathy & David Guetta and has been exceptionally well received by most critics, something of a first for a microcar — and it’s not the only one revolutionising the market.

Toyota recently unveiled the latest version of the Coms, its single-seat model which has been in production for some time now, promising a faster charging time and a top speed of 60km/h.

Even Peel Automotive, the firm behind the P50 so ruthlessly pilloried by BBC program Top Gear, has been resurrected to get back in the game, boasting a new electric engine thanks to funding from British celebrity investor James Caan.

That new engine holds the key to at least part of the surge in new microcars — while small vehicles traditionally had to house occupants uncomfortably close to a noise combustion engine, the silent operation of modern electric motors has given designers far more flexibility when it comes to cramming as much car as possible into a small space.

It also helps that the new engines used are better than any electric propulsions systems produced to date — none of the range issues of the Sinclair C5, for example, are present thanks to better batteries and more efficient regeneration systems.

Thanks to the popularity of models such as the smart fortwo, there also seems to be increasing acceptance among major, influential automakers that the era of small cars has dawned thanks to increasing urbanisation and the rapidly expanding number of cities in Asia.

All that means that while Renault and Toyota may be leading the charge, micro models such as the VELV from Peugeot and Honda’s Micro Commuter concept could be joining them on city streets before very long at all. — AFP/Relaxnews

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