As urban roads and highways become increasingly congested with traffic, one of the latest trends in automaking is the extreme downsizing of the car. The Smart Car has done very well in Europe with its ultrasmall size, modern design and great gas mileage, while the MINI Cooper and other MINI models have reemerged to immense popularity.
These vehicles have proven to be a boon for people looking to save on gas money and skip out on parallel parking, but there's one obvious aspect that drivers are forced to sacrifice with an ultracompact car -- the availability of space. Some might be able to get by fine in a tiny car, but travelers or larger families might have trouble carrying bigger loads with just two seats and very little trunk space.
Toyota is attempting to address this dilemma with its own take on the minicar, a four-seat passenger vehicle called the iQ Car. At just under 10 feet long and about 5-and-a-half feet wide, the iQ is an example of innovative design and technology -- everything from the seating arrangements to the miniaturized front console controls is taken into account. Although it's slightly bigger than Daimler-Chysler's Smart Car, it's still much smaller than the average 14- or 15- foot-long compact car. The iQ is also in clear competition with the Smart Car, as both names are obvious references to resourcefulness.
Toyota expects the iQ will be ready for production in late 2008, but the company plans to make the car available to European drivers only -- demand for smaller vehicles in Europe is still high, and the quirky designs of minicars are fashionable. Recent SUV sales in the United States have been declining due to higher gas prices, though, and environmentalists frown upon big gas-guzzlers like the Hummer. The Smart Car also goes on sale in the United States in early 2008, so good minicar sales might give Toyota a reason to change its mind.
To find out more about the iQ's specifications, read the next page.
iQ Car Specs
The iQ Car concept came to life at ED2, Toyota's European design facility in Nice, France, and debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2007. One of the first things people usually wonder about a minicar is what kind of engine powers it. Is it a gasoline engine? Is it a hybrid? Is it a pure electric car?
The iQ appears to have none of the above. Since it's still technically a concept at this point, not much is known about what's under the iQ's hood, but rumors suggest that Toyota is partnering with Yamaha to make a 1-liter motorcycle engine. Although the company hasn't released any further information regarding engine capacity or the number of cylinders, a motorcycle engine may translate to good gas mileage if the iQ's weight is kept low. Still, the two companies may end up unveiling something completely different by the time 2008 comes to an end.
So how does Toyota manage to fit three adults and one small child into such a small car? The tires of the iQ are pushed out to the corners and shrunken down to a very low 17 inches, leaving more room for your feet. Initially, the car seems like any other two-seater minicar, but sliding the front seats forward offers two more seats, one for an adult and another for a child. Since the steering wheel doesn't allow the driver's seat to move forward, a small child is able to fit behind the driver, but there's enough room on the passenger side to fit one adult in front and another right behind after adjusting the seat.
Toyota didn't just stop at seating arrangements when managing space. You might not think about it too much, but all the knobs, buttons and gadgets on a car's front console can take up a lot of room. The iQ has all of these technological necessities, but everything's been miniaturized or moved to the steering wheel. Instead of having three separate indicators for speed, rpm and fuel level, a single read-out displays them all together right above the steering column. While audio and navigation controls usually take up most of a center console, those choices are put in the driver's hands as they're moved over to the steering wheel.
Although Toyota is keeping most of the iQ's technology under wraps for the moment, one thing's for sure -- if Toyota can manage space this efficiently in a car, we definitely want the company rearranging our messy refrigerators.
The iQ might be cool on the side, but do minicars also equal less traffic congestion?
So why the sudden shift toward smaller vehicles? Using GPS data collected from thousands of cars driving through European cities, UK traffic information service KeepMoving.co.uk found that London has the slowest-moving traffic in Europe. Cars in England's capital crawl along at an average of only 12 mph, even with a congestion charge in certain zones of £8 (about $16 USD). Other cities like Berlin (15 mph), Warsaw (16 mph) and Rome (19 mph) also suffer from slow movement despite large public transportation systems like subways [source: World Car Fans].
Meanwhile, construction companies continue to benefit from building parking lots and multilevel parking facilities in the United States -- but an increased amount of space isn't making it any easier for drivers looking for a place to park, and traffic in big cities fails to improve. Students at Stanford University, for instance, continue to experience nothing but frustration after the addition of more than 3,000 parking spots between 1997 and 2007 [source: The Stanford Daily]. So what's going on?
Some suggest that increasing the parking supply by adding lot upon lot doesn't help. It only encourages more people to drive and places a twofold strain on the environment -- we're forced to pave more parking lots, therefore disrupting the surrounding soil and vegetation, and the jump in the number of cars on the road leads to a bigger carbon footprint measurement. On top of this, it costs plenty of money to build lots, and the extra cars on the road only increase the amount of accidents -- that only makes auto insurance agencies happy [source: Transportation Demand Management].
Minicars like the iQ Car, with better efficiency and less space, might offer a solution to the problems affecting both traffic and parking. As long as the number of cars on the road didn't increase, the extra space could ease bumper-to-bumper traffic in congested areas.
Parking in a minicar is a whole different experience, too. For those of us who struggled through the parallel parking section of the driving test, parking in crowded downtown areas can be a nightmare. The idea of fitting a 15-foot long vehicle into a space that looks much smaller than 15 feet is enough to make you skip that spot close to the store and park farther away. The length of the iQ Car is only 10 feet, though, about the same as the width of a parallel parking spot on the side of the street. In theory, you could squeeze two or three iQs into one spot.
This new generation of smaller, ultracompact cars may simultaneously solve the messy problem of overcrowded parking lots, gridlocked highways and the dreaded blind spot. For lots more information on cars, traffic and related topics, see the links on the next page.
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More Great Links
- Dada, Kamil. "Parking lot paradise?" The Stanford Daily. Nov. 12, 2007. http://daily.stanford.edu/article/2007/11/12/parkingLotParadise
- "Europe's slowest cities list published." World Car Fans. http://www.worldcarfans.com/9071019.006/europes-slowest-cities-list-published
- Lombari, Candace. "Toyota partnering with Yamaha on iQ." News.com. Oct. 15, 2007. http://www.news.com/8301-10784_3-9797536-7.html?part= rss&tag=feed&subj=NewsBlog
- "Parking solutions: a comprehensive menu of solutions to parking problems." Transportation Demand Management. Mar. 7, 2007. http://www.vtpi.org/tdm/tdm72.htm
- "Revealed: Toyota iQ minicar concept." Motor Authority. Sept. 11, 2007. http://www.motorauthority.com/news/concept-cars/revealed-toyota-iq-minicar-concept/
- Yeebo, Yepoka. "London has slowest traffic in Europe at just 12mph." The Times. Oct. 17, 2007. http://driving.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/driving/article2674963.ece