|Toyota is out to get Smart with a clever new microcar. Though designed for Europe and Japan, the iQ could come stateside to help us cope with soaring fuel prices and growing urban congestion.|
|Toyota hopes to sell 100,000 in 2009. Europe and Japan are the intended markets, but the iQ is being whispered for U.S. sale as a 2010 model. If it comes here, it would be our market’s first direct alternative to the Smart ForTwo from Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler AG, a car generating much interest amid soaring fuel prices and a worsening economy.|
|For the U.S., however, a 2010 Toyota iQ would likely use the 1.5-liter 4-cylinder gas engine that powers Toyota’s larger Yaris subcompact, if only because the two models have similar-size engine bays. Transmission? We’d look for a Smart-like 5-speed automated manual to maximize fuel economy and to please mostly shift-averse Americans.|
Toyota is said to be studying the iQ’s prospects for North American sale, which means a decision is probably some months away. The company is no doubt keeping a close eye on early demand for the Smart ForTwo. But assuming the iQ does come here, it should be positioned as a “proper,” if ultra-compact, car that’s fun-to-drive maneuverable and very easy on gas, of course. Safety may be another talking point, as Toyota expects the iQ to earn five-star ratings in European NCAP crash tests, which bodes well for passing similar U.S.-government trials. The iQ won’t lack “green” credentials either. Even non-hybrid models are projected to have CO2 emissions of around 100g/km, well below the upcoming 130g/km European Union mandate. Last but not least, the 2010 Toyota iQ may prove a more refined and practical microcar than the Smart ForTwo, owing to its extra room and Toyota’s penchant for smooth, quiet engines and robust vehicle structures.
But are enough Americans willing to buy an iQ for Toyota to sell it? Well, the Smart has developed a cult following here with its cute looks, park-anywhere size and high fuel thrift, so there’s little reason to think the iQ couldn’t do likewise, especially given Toyota’s reputation for durability and high resale value. Then again, Toyota might choose to market the iQ as a Scion, the youth-oriented brand that’s showing signs of needing a little sales spark. About all we can say for now is stay tuned.
|As noted, sales in Europe and Japan should be underway by early 2009. The U.S. roll out, assuming there is one, would likely be no earlier than autumn 2009 and could be later, depending on production capacity versus sales demand in other markets.|
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