Should this car come to the US?

The Toyota Prius and Honda Insight, while not runaway successes, have had strong sales since they were introduced. Apparently in this of land of lumbering SUV’s there is a viable market for a vehicle that places top priority on fuel economy. In fact, in a recent owner survey of both the Toyota and Honda, many said they bought the car purely on its technological merits, without ever taking a test drive. Take a look at the Audi A2 1.2 TDI, a production car which gets about 78mpg. If this car can better the fuel economies of the both Toyota and Honda hybrid engines while offering far more interior room, why isn’t it going to be offered in the US?

Actually, the Prius and Insight have not sold particlarly well, and in the case of Insight, Honda admits that they are selling them for less than the build cost in an effort to establish a market for future hybrids.

The Audi A2 (and VW Lupo, which comes in a ultra-economical version) is indeed impressive, and seems to provide most of the mileage benefits of a hybrid at lower build cost. Unfortunately, several aspects of the US market make it unlikely that we will see such cars anytime soon:

  1. engine size: there is currently little interest in sedans with engine displacement under about 1.8 liters here

  2. diesel power: also not much loved here

  3. perceived lower safety of very small vehicles: I can already visualize a “60 Minutes” expose showing an A2 squashed under a Navigator SUV

  4. The high costs of making such a car legal for the US market (beefed up structure to support 5 MPH bumpers, for example), coupled with thin profit margins for the manufacturer.

I spent a long time in Europe and grew used to the combination of very lightweight construction and diesel power for increased fuel economy, but unless US fuel prices rise significantly, Americans are unlikely to embrace such vehicles in numbers sufficient to justfy marketing them here.

      • Small cramped cars with high gas milage have generally been available in the US for at least 3 decades and have generally not sold well, regardless of who made them. “Fuel economy at the expense of everything else” just doesn’t sell here. - MC

I agree, although I would dispute the “small cramped” when discussing German designed cars. While I routinely have had to slump down to avoid mashing my head into the ceiling of most U.S. and Japanese sub-compacts (all the while pulling my knees up as close to my cheeks as I could), my 6’ frame was easily able to sit upright in my Rabbit and my slightly taller brother could sit behind me with seat-rubbed knees, but plenty of room for his feet and head. (I haven’t gotten into a Golf, so they could have gotten smaller, I guess.)

I have had similar experiences in the baby Beamer and a small Audi.

      • In the March issue of Car and Driver there’s a review on the Toyota Prius. They didn’t seem to impressed. It didn’t work well in cold climates at all, and was relatively expensive considering the interior space and on-road performance. - MC

The Audi A2 is really small. I wouldn’t consider it, and I think it’s going to have a hard time in Europe as well - it’s rather expensive for what it offers. And while there’s no accounting for taste, I think it’s fair to say that the A2 is butt-ugly as well. :wink:

The VW Lupo TDi (with the same engine as the Audi A2, I think) has been on the market for three years. Sales are mediocre at best. It’s a small car that is mostly bought as the stereotypical “shopping cart”. Since those usually don’t drive that much, the diesel option is not so economically viable, what with European road taxes (fixed amounts per annum in most countries) being usually higher for diesel engines (thus driving up the break-even point of a petrol vs. diesel decision).

If it doesn’t go at least 100mph, accelerate with about 2g’s, and come equipped with radar detectors and maskers - Car & Driver will not like it. So saying C&D doesn’t like the Prius is kinda like a vegan avoiding “Meats ‘R’ Us”

At the very least, I don’t imagine it would come over as an Audi. That brand in the US seems to be aimed at a clientele that has no interest whatsoever in efficiency.

      • Actually- -no; they compared it to another Toyota product- the Echo, a vehicle in the same size range, but with a regular gasoline engine. The Prius was $6591 more expensive, only got 35 mpg to the Echo’s 33 (in their cold-weather testing), and was 4.2 seconds slower in 0-60 mph tests than the Echo. (-in cold weather the diesel engine stays on all the time, blowing the famed fuel efficiency) Toyota did “increase” the power from last year’s 58 hp to 70 hp, but they did it by raising the diesel engine’s redline from 4000 to 4500. -Doh!
        -This was a short-term test, so the subject/problem of battery life and replacement costs couldn’t really be explored. That’s a potentially very expensive question left unanswered. As it is now, the car isn’t set up to allow functioning without working batteries.
  • And it just plain didn’t drive well; the throttle and brakes are essentially electronic, and the engine-swapping and regenerative braking games they always play made the car feel jerky and vague. One reviewer mentions that the Honda Insight drives far better. - MC

Thanks, MC, for setting me straight about Car & Driver’s review of the Prius. I based my comment on what I perceive as their typical mindset. Oops, is my prejudice showing? Altho’ I still think they come from the perspective that hot muscle cars are better than soccer-mom-mobiles; just as Consumer Reports tends to like “practical” and “safe” cars.