What’s our little problem?
Aussies just don’t buy micro cars — but here are some reasons why you should downsize
Let’s do a little exercise: think about how many trips you take in your car where you’re the only occupant, with nothing more than a small bag in tow?
Now ask yourself, how many other cars are out there where there’s only one other person?
Do you spend most of your driving time stuck in traffic, or on roads with speed limits under 80km/h?
The above scenarios won’t be common for a lot of motorists — but if you’re one of the many who spend most of their time behind the wheel in these situations, chances are a micro car would suit you to a tee.
And yet, despite the amount of people who would be best served by a micro car, no one is buying them.
There have been only 2980 micro cars sold nationally this year, making up just 0.7 per cent of all new vehicles sold so far this year.
Meanwhile, light cars — which is the next segment up size-wise and includes the likes of the Mazda2, Toyota Yaris and Volkswagen Polo — have
sold nearly 10 times as many in 2019.
Sure they offer a bit more space, but for a lot of people it would go unused most of the time and they generally cost a fair whack more than a micro car for the privilege of not much more room.
The poor sales mean few companies are willing to get into the segment; many auto makers have pulled out and only three options now remain: the Kia Picanto, Mitsubishi Mirage, below, and Fiat 500.
It’s a tricky one. Companies have to keep prices low to lure buyers, with the exception of the Fiat 500 which trades on its history and funky chic — but even that was on sale from $14,000 a few years back.
Low prices mean tight margins — in fact, in the past we’ve heard of certain micro car variants being sold as a loss to lure young buyers to a brand, with the hope of keeping them as they upgrade to more expensive cars later in life.
So if car makers are making little money per sale, they have to shift a lot of cars to make it worthwhile — even cars which have succeeded and/or become well known, such as the Suzuki Celerio or Nissan Micra, have fallen by the wayside.
The demand just isn’t there
. . . and we reckon it should be.
The most obvious reason against a micro car purchase is the lack of space.
But micro cars are generally designed with functionality in mind, resulting in tall bodies.
I’m a bit over 182cm tall and have never had head or leg issues in a micro car.
Sure, it can be a pain if the steering wheel’s reach can’t be adjusted, but this is true for vehicles in other segments too — including the dual cabs everyone lusts over these days.
You can fit a decent grocery shop in the boot, plus you can
always use rear seats, footwells and the like if you’re particularly hungry that week. People also cite safety as a reason to cross micros off the shopping list — but this is more about feeling safe than actually being safe. The 500 and Mirage both have five-star ANCAP ratings, while the Picanto is rated at four.
Admittedly, the Kia wasn’t great for child and pedestrian protection, but it does offer autonomous emergency braking despite its low asking price.
Some may bemoan the lack of power in these cars, but you’re not using them to haul past road trains.
Plus, many micro cars actually have spunky, charismatic high-revving engines which are a blast to pilot about — and you won’t use much fuel at all while you do it.
Micro cars also have a turning circle roughly the size of a 20¢ piece, so their steering is direct and fun and even the tightest carpark is a breeze.
The best part is auto makers haven’t scrimped on the fruit in recent years, so you can get access to a lot of the latest comforts and tech for not a lot of money — particularly if you hit the used car market. So the next time you’re in your car, perhaps take some time to look around at the amount of empty, unused space surrounding you and ask whether it’s worth paying a premium for.
The funky Fiat 500.
The Mitsubishi Mirage has a five-star crash rating.