What’s our lit­tle prob­lem?

Aussies just don’t buy mi­cro cars — but here are some rea­sons why you should down­size

The West Australian - - WEST WHEELS | COVER STORY - SAM JEREMIC

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.

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