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An economy car is an automobile that is designed for low cost operation. Typical economy cars are small, light weight, and inexpensive to buy.

History

Pre-war

At the birth of the automobile, in the 1890s and into the first decade of the twentieth century, the motorized vehicle was considered a replacement for the carriages of the rich, or simply a dangerous toy, that annoyed and inconvenienced the general public. The children's book Wind in the Willows, pokes fun at early privileged motorists. The first car to be marketed to the (well off but not rich) ordinary person and so the first 'economy car', was the 1901–1907 Oldsmobile Curved Dash - it was produced by the thousands. It was inspired by the buckboard type horse and buggy, (used like a small two seat pickup truck) popular in rural areas of the U.S. It had two seats, but was less versatile than the vehicle that inspired it. It was produced after a fire at the Oldsmobile plant, when the prototype was saved by a nightwatchman named Stebbins, and was the only product available to the company to produce, to get back on their feet.

Although cars were becoming more affordable before it was launched, the 1908–1927 Ford Model T is considered to be the first true economy car, because the very few previous vehicles at the bottom of the market were 'horseless carriages' rather than practical cars. The major manufacturers at the time had little interest in low-priced models. The first 'real' cars had featured the FR layout first used by the French car maker Panhard and so did the Model T.

Henry Ford declared at the launch of the vehicle -
"I will build a car for the great multitude.
It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for.
It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise.
But it will be low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one - and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces."


The Ford Model T was a large scale mass produced car, that very innovation, along with the attributes it required a simple, inexpensive design allowed it to be the first car to exemplify the ideals of the economy car. The complexity involved in making it a successful design was in its production and materials technology; particularly the use of new vanadium steel alloys. Model T production was the leading example of the Taylorism school of scientific management, (also known as Fordism), and its production techniques evolved at the Highland Park Ford Plant that opened in 1910, after it outgrew its Piquette Plantmarker. The River Rouge Plantmarker which opened in 1919, was the most technologically advanced in the world, raw materials entered at one end and finished cars emerged from the other. The innovation of the moving production line, was inspired by the 'dis-assembly' plants of the Chicago meat packing industry, reduced production time from twelve and a half hours, to just an hour and thirty-three minutes per car. Black was the only colour available because it was the only paint that would dry in the required production time. The continuous improvement of production methods, and economies of scale from larger and larger scale production, allowed Henry Ford to progressively lower the price of the Model T throughout its production run. It was far less expensive, smaller, and more austere than its hand-built pre-first world war contemporaries. The size of the Model T was arrived at, by making its track to the width of the ruts in the unsurfaced rural American roads of the time, ruts made by horse drawn vehicles. It was specifically designed with a large degree of axle articulation, and a high ground clearance, to deal with these conditions effectively. It had an under stressed engine. It set the template for American vehicles being larger than comparable vehicles in other countries, which would later on have economy cars scaled to their narrower roads with smaller engines. The Ford Model T was voted Car of the Century at an awards gala on December 18, 1999 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In 1914 Ford was producing half a million Model Ts a year, with a sale price of less than US$500. This was more than the rest of the U.S. auto industry combined and ten times the total national car production of 1908, the year of the cars launch.

The Ford Model T was the first automobile produced in many countries at the same time. It was the first 'World Car', since they were being produced in Canadamarker and in Manchester, England starting in 1911 and were later assembled in Germany, Argentina , Francemarker, Spainmarker, Denmarkmarker, Norwaymarker, Belgiummarker, Brazilmarker, Mexicomarker and Japanmarker.

At the New York Motor Show in January 1915, William C. Durant the head of Chevrolet (and founder of GM), launched the Chevrolet Four-Ninety, a stripped down version of the Series-H, to compete with Henry Ford's Model T, and went into production in June. To aim directly at Ford, Durant said the new car would be priced at $490 (the source of its name), the same as the Model T touring. Its introductory price was $550, however, although it was reduced to $490 later when the electric starter and lights were made a $60 option. Henry Ford responded by reducing the Model T to $440.The subsequent decades led to economical cars that reflected the needs of their creators. The cycle car was an attempt in the period before 1922 in the post First World War austerity period, as a form of "four-wheeled motorcycle", with all the benefits of a motorcycle and side-car, in a more stable package. Crosley, a U.S. appliance manufacturer, would also be an early pioneer of very small cars.

In 1923 Chevrolet tried again with the Chevrolet Series M 'Copper-Cooled', air cooled car, designed by General Motors engineer at AC Delco Charles Kettering, (who invented the points/condenser ignition system that was in use until the 1980s), it was a rare failure for him, due to uneven cooling of the inline four cylinder engine.

The most development occurred in Europe. There was less emphasis on long-distance automobile travel, a need for vehicles that could navigate narrow streets and alleys in towns and cities (many were unchanged since medieval times), and the narrow and winding roads commonly found in the European countryside. Ettore Bugatti designed a small car for Peugeot. The 1911 Bebe Type 19. It had an 850 cc 4-cylinder engine. The Citroën Type A was the first car produced by Citroën from June 1919 to December 1921 in Paris. Citroën had been established to produce the double bevel gears that its logo resembles, but had ended the First World War with large production facilities, from the production of much needed artillery shells for the French army. Andre Citroen was a keen adopter of U.S. car manufacturing ideas and technology in the 1920s and 30s. He re-equipped his factory as a scaled down version of the Ford River Rouge Plant, that he had visited in Detroitmarker Michiganmarker. It was advertised as "Europe's first mass production car." The Type A reached a production number of 24,093 vehicles. The Opel 4 PS, Germany's first 'peoples car', popularly known as the Opel Laubfrosch (Opel Treefrog), was a small two seater car introduced by the then family owned auto maker Opel, early in 1924, which bore an uncanny resemblance to the little Torpedo Citroën 5 CV of 1922.

On an even smaller scale, European cars, such as the 747 cc Austin Seven, (which made cycle-cars obsolete overnight), would also start to catch on in Japanmarker during the same time period, as a Datsun, leading to the start of their own automobile industry. It was also produced by BMW in Germany, Rosengart in France, and by Bantam in the U.S. It also displaced the motorcycle and sidecar combination that was popular in the 1920s. It spawned a whole industry of 'specials' builders. Swallow Sidecars switched to making cars based on Austin Seven chassis during the 1920s, then made their own complete cars in the 1930s as SS. With the advent of Nazi Germany the company changed its name: to Jaguar.

Also, in the 1920s, Ford (with the Model T in Manchester, England), General Motors, who took over Opel in Germany and Vauxhall in Britain), expanded into Europe. Most Ford and GM European cars, especially economy cars, were technologically conservative and all were rear wheel drive to a smaller European size, with improvements focused mainly on styling, (apart from the introduction of the 1935 monocoque Opel Olympia, and the Macpherson strut by Ford in the 1950s/60s), until the late 1970s/early 1980s.

In the late-1920s, General Motors finally overtook Ford, as the U.S. new car market doubled in size, and fragmented into niches on a wave of prosperity, with GM producing a range of cars to match. This included a Chevrolet economy car that was just an entry level model for the range of cars. It was only a small part of the marketing strategy - "A car for every purse and purpose" of GM head Alfred P. Sloan. Sloan introduced the annual model change, which moved cars from being utilitarian items to fashionable status symbols - that needed regular replacement "to keep up with the Joneses." It was funded by high interest/low regular payments consumer credit, as was the 1920s boom in other consumer durable products. It marked the beginning of mass market consumerism, that had been enabled by the efficiency of mass production and the moving production line. Until this time, manufacturers of consumer goods were concerned, by the possibility that the market would be fulfilled and demand would dry up. Henry Ford was wrong-footed by staying with the one size fits all, "any colour you like as long as it's black", Model T for far too long. The 'one model' policy had nearly bankrupted the Ford Motor Company. By the end of production in 1927 it looked like a relic from another era. It was replaced by the Model A.

In 1929 Chevrolet replaced the Chevrolet Inline-4 engine that dated from 1913, with the Chevrolet Straight-6 engine or 'Stovebolt 6', that was to last until the 1970s as Chevrolet's base engine. A few years later Ford developed the Model A with the Ford flathead V8. The 1932 Model B coupe became the car of choice for post war hot-rodders. It was the first V8 engine in a low priced car, and along with the Chevrolet 6, clearly showed how the U.S. was diverging from the rest of the world, in its ideas about what constituted a basic economy car.

In 1928 Morris launched the first Morris Minor in Britain to compete with the Austin Seven. Also that year German motorcycle manufacturer DKW launched their first car, the P15, a rear wheel drive, wood and fabric bodied monocoque car, powered by a 600 cc an inline two-cylinder two-stroke engine.

In 1931 the DKW F1 was launched. This was the first mass produced front wheel drive car in the world. It featured a front-engine, front-wheel drive layout using a water cooled 494 cc or 584 cc transverse two stroke engine with chain drive. This was developed through the 1930s into the 1938 F8 model and the F9 that was not put into production because World War II started. By this time DKW had become the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world. Their two-stroke engine technology was to appear in the postwar products of Harley-Davidson, BSA, Trabant, Wartburg, Saab, Subaru, Piaggio, Puch and Kawasaki.

In the 1930s, Fiatmarker in Italy produced the advanced and very compact Topolino or 'little mouse', the precursor of the 1950s Fiat 500. It was a similar size to the Austin Seven, but much more advanced than the Seven which was produced with updated and restyled body until World War II, and still on the early 1920s chassis.

The Volkswagen Beetle would be the longest-lasting icon of this 1930s era. Adolf Hitler admired the ideals exemplified by the Ford Model T, and sought the help of Ferdinand Porsche to create a 'peoples-car' - literally Volks-Wagen, with the same ideals for the people of Germanymarker. Many of the design ideas were plagiarised from the work of Hans Ledwinka, the Tatra T97 with the Czechoslovakian Tatra company. The Nazi "KdF-Wagen" ("Strength through Joy - Car") program ground to a halt because of World War II, but after the war, the Volkswagen company would be founded to produce the car in the new democratic West Germany, where it would be a success.

The pre-war European car market was not one market. Trade barriers fragmented it into national markets, apart from luxury cars where the extra cost of tariffs could actually make cars more exclusive and desirable. The only way for a car maker to enter another national market of a major European car making country, (and their colonial markets of the time), was to open factories there. For example, Citroen and Renault opened factories in England in this period. This situation only really changed with the post-war growth of the EEC (European Community) and EFTA. The British RAC (Royal Automobile Club) horsepower taxation system had the secondary function of excluding foreign vehicles. It was specifically targeted at the Ford Model T, which the then government feared would wipe out the fledgling indigenous motor industry. It crippled car engine design in Britain in the inter-war period, and was abolished after World War II as part of the British export drive for desperately needed, hard foreign currency, because it made British cars uncompetitive internationally. The 1930s Morris Eight, Ford Eight (Ford Model Y), and Standard Eight, (who later became Triumph) were named after their RAC horsepower car tax rating.

1945–1970

As Europe and Japan rebuilt from the war, their growing economies led to a steady increase in demand for cheap cars to 'motorise the masses'. Emerging technology allowed economy cars to become more sophisticated. Early post-war economy cars like the VW Beetle, Citroën 2CV, Renault 4CV, and Saab 92, looked extremely minimal, but they were technologically more advanced than almost all conventional cars of the time.

The VW featured a 1.1 litre, air cooled flat four, rear engine with rear wheel drive, all round fully independent suspension, semi monocoque construction and the ability to cruise on the Autobahn for long periods reliably. This cruising ability and engine durability was gained by high top gearing, and by restricting the engine breathing and performance to well below its maximum capability. The Volkswagen Type 1 'Beetle' the most popular single design of all time.

The 375 cc Citroën 2CV had interconnected all round fully independent suspension, rack and pinion steering, radial tyres and front wheel drive with an air cooled flat twin engine. It was some 10 to 15 MPG (Imperial) more fuel efficient than any other economy car of its time - but with restricted performance to match. It was designed to motorise rural communities where speed was not a requirement. The original design brief had been issued before the Second World War in the 1930s. Engine size increased over time, from 1970 it was a still tiny 602 cc.

The Saab 92 had a transversly-mounted, water-cooled two-cylinder, two-stroke based on a DKW design, driving the front wheels. It had aircraft derived monocoque construction, with an aerodynamic cW value (drag coefficient) of 0.30 - not bettered until the 1980s. It was later developed into the Saab 93, Saab 95, Saab 96. It was produced until 1980. The mechanicals were used in the Saab Sonett sports cars.

Also in the immediate postwar period, the monocoque Morris Minor was launched in 1948. Because of costs it reused the pre-war side-valve Morris 8 engine instead of an intended flat-four. It had a strong emphasis on good packaging and roadholding, with rack and pinion steering and American influenced styling, but was otherwise conventional. It was designed by Alec Issigonis.

While economy cars flourished in Europe and Japan, the booming postwar American economy combined with the emergence of the suburban and interstate highways in that country led to slow acceptance of small cars. Brief economic recessions saw interest in economical cars wax and wane. During this time, the American auto manufacturers would introduce smaller cars of their own, in 1950 Nash Motors introduced the Rambler designed to be smaller than contemporary cars, yet still accommodate five passengers comfortably. Nash also contracted with British Motor Corporation to build the American designed Metropolitan using existing BMC mechanical components, (the engine is a BMC B-Series engine also used in the MG MGA and MG MGB). Imported cars began to appear on the U.S. market during this time to satisfy the demands for true economy cars. An initial late 40s/early 50s success in a small way, was the monocoque Morris Minor launched in 1948, with its miniaturized Chevrolet styling. It was underpowered for the long distance roads of the U.S. and especially the freeways that were starting to spread across the country in the 1950s. The first British Motorway did not open until 1959. BMC preferred to develop the higher profit margin MGs for the American market and also worked with Nash and so passed on the opportunity. From the mid-1950s the Volkswagen Beetle using clever and innovative advertising and capitalising on its very high build quality, durability and reliability, was a spectacular success. Having been designed for cruising the Autobahns, Freeways were no problem for it. It disproved the scepticism of American buyers as to the usefulness of, by their standards, such small cars. Initially the stylish Renault Dauphine derived from the Renault 4CV, looked like it would follow the VWs footsteps, but then was a failure due to mechanical breakdowns and body corrosion. This failure on the U.S. market in the late 1950s, may have harmed the acceptance of small cars generally in America.

In the late 1950s the DDR German Democratic Republicmarker produced its 'peoples car'. The Trabant sold 3 million vehicles in thirty years due to its communist captive market. It had a transverse two-cylinder air-cooled two-stroke engine and front wheel drive, using DKW technology.

In 1957, Fiat in Italy launched the 479 cc 'Nuovo' Fiat 500 designed by Dante Giacosa. It was the first real city car. It had a rear mounted air cooled vertical twin engine, and all round independent suspension. Its target market was Italian scooter riders who had settled down and had a young family, and needed their first car. Fiat had also launched the larger 1955 Fiat 600 with a similar layout but with a watercooled inline 4 cylinder engine, it even had a six seater people carrier / MPV / mini-van version called the 'Multipla', even though it was about the same size as a modern supermini.

Car body corrosion was a particular problem from the 1950s to the 1980s when cars moved to monocoque or uni-body construction (starting from the 1930s), from a separate Body-on-frame chassis made from thick steel. This relied on the shaped body panels, and the integrity of the body-shell for strength. A light car was a fast and/or economical car. The introduction of newly available computers for structural analysis from the 1960s, with computers like the IBM 360, the thickness of sheet metal in bodyshells was reduced to the minimum needed for structural integrity. However, corrosion prevention / rustproofing, that had not previously been significant because of the thickness of metal and separate chassis, had not kept pace with this new construction technology. The lightest monocoque economy cars would be the most affected by structural corrosion.

The next advance was the 1959 848 cc Austin Mini from the British Motor Corporation, designed by Alec Issigonis as a response to the first oil crisis, the 1956 Suez Crisis, and the boom in bubble cars and Microcars that followed. It was the first front wheel drive car with a watercooled inline four cylinder engine mounted transversely. This allowed eighty percent of the floor plan for the use of passengers and luggage. The majority of modern cars use this configuration. Its progressive rate rubber sprung independent suspension (Hydrolastic 1964-1971), low centre of gravity, and wheel at each corner with radial tyres, increased the car's grip and handling over all but the most expensive automobiles on the market. The Mini was voted the second most important car of the twentieth century after the Ford Model T.

Also in 1959 the FR layout DAF 600, with a rear mounted automatic gearbox, was launched in the Netherlandsmarker. The 600 was the first car to have a continuously variable transmission (CVT) system - the innovotive DAF Variomatic. It was the first European economy car with an automatic gearbox. The CVT was continued through the 1960s and 70s by DAF with the DAF Daffodil, DAF 33, DAF 44, DAF 46, DAF 66 and later by Volvo after they merged with the Volvo 340. The 1960s Austin Mini automatic gearbox (with a conventional epicyclic / torque converter coupling) was much less efficient.

In the 1960s the 750 cc Renault 4 (arguably the first small five door hatchback, but viewed as a small estate car / station wagon at the time) was launched in France. In layout it was essentially an economy car version of the 1930s designed Citroen Traction Avant Commerciale version. The Commerciale had been smaller than an estate car with a horizontally split two piece rear door before the second world war. When it was relaunched in 1954 it featured a one-piece top-hinged tailgate. Citroen responded with the 2cv based 1960 602 cc Citroen Ami and hatchback 1967 Citroen Dyane. Also in France, in 1966 Renault launched the midrange Renault 16 - although it was not an economy car it is widely recognised as the first non commercial mass market hatchback car. The hatchback was a leap forward in practicality. It was adopted as a standard feature on most European cars, with saloons declining in popularity apart from at the top of the market over the next twenty years. Small economy cars that were more limited in load carrying ability than larger cars benefited most - long light loads like furniture could be hung out of the back of the car.

The 1960s Toyota Corolla, Datsun Sunny refined the conventional small rear wheel drive economy cars as postwar international competition and trade increased. Japan also codified a legal standard for extremely economical small cars, known as the keicar. Japan also instituted the 'Shaken' roadworthiness testing regime, that required progressively more expensive maintenance, involving the replacement of entire vehicle systems, that was unnecessary for safety, year on year, to devalue older cars and promote new cars on their home market that were available for low prices. There are very few cars in Japan more than five years old.

In 1964 Fiatmarker designed the first car with a transverse engine and an end on gearbox (put into limited production and available as a hatchback) - the Autobianchi Primula , that was developed into the Autobianchi A112 and Autobianchi A111. They were only sold in mainland Europe, where they were popular for decades, but unknown in the UK. The 1967 Simca 1100 (who had previously used Fiat technology under licence), the 1969 Fiat 128, and the 1971 Fiat 127 regarded as the first 'super-mini' brought this development to a wider audience. This layout gradually superseded the gearbox in the engine's sump of BMC Austin Morris and later Peugeot PSA X engine, until the only car in production with this transmission layout by the 1990s, was the then long obsolescent Austin (Rover) Mini.

The launch in the 1960s of the Mini Cooper to exploit the exceptional grip and handling of the Austin Mini, along with its success in rallying, (Monte Carlo Rally in particular) and circuit racing, first showed that economy cars could be effective sports cars. It made traditional sports cars like the MG Midget look very old fashioned. The rear wheel drive Ford Lotus Cortina and Ford Escort 1300GT and RS1600, along with the Vauxhall Viva GT and Brabham SL/90 HB in the late 1960s opened up this market still further in Britain. Meanwhile, from the 1950s Abarth tuned Fiats and Gordini tuned Renaults did the same in Italy and France.

The 1960s also saw the swansong of the rear engined rear wheel drive car: with the introduction of the 874 cc Hillman Imp - UK, the relatively unsuccessful attempt at diversification of the Volkswagen Type 3, Volkswagen Type 4, and there was also the 583 cc NSU Prinz - West Germany, the 956–1289cc Renault 8/10 and 777–1294cc Simca 1000 - France, the 2296 cc Chevrolet Corvair - USA. In Communist Eastern Europe there was the Renault based Škoda 1000MB/1100MB that was developed into the 70s Škoda S100/110 and then the 70s/80s Škoda 105/120/125 Estelle - Czechoslovakia, and the poor Ukrainian made Zaporozhets - USSR. This layout had better interior space utilisation than front engine rear wheel drive cars, and a better ride than those with a live rear beam axle. It was an affordable way to produce a car with all independent suspension, without the need for expensive constant-velocity joints needed by front wheel drive cars, or axle arrangements of FR layout cars. But, they could have roadholding issues due to unfavorable weight distribution and wheel camber changes (rear wheel tuck under), of the lower-cost swing axle rear suspension design. These were highlighted and a little exaggerated by Ralph Nader. These problems were ameliorated on later Beetles and were eliminated on the second-generation Chevrolet Corvair with the switch to a four-link, fully independent rear suspension.

In the US market, 1960 brought the Chevrolet Corvair, Ford Falcon, and Plymouth Valiant into the market segment dominated by Rambler. These vehicles were lower priced and offered better fuel economy than American full-size offerings. The Corvair, Chevrolet's rear-engined compact car was originally brought to market to compete directly with the VW Beetle. Ford Falcon and Plymouth Valiant were conventional, compact six-cylinder sedans that competed directly with the American Rambler. In 1962 Chevrolet introduced the Chevy II line of conventional compacts first offered with 4 and 6-cylinder engines. These American vehicles were still much larger than fuel efficient economy cars popular in Europe and Japan. The Corvair is twenty inches longer, seven inches wider, eight hundred pounds heavier and includes an engine almost twice the size of the Beetle that inspired it. Corvair offered VW's rear engine advantages of traction, light steering, and flat floor with Chevrolet's 6-passenger room and 6-cylinder power American buyers were accustomed to. Later versions of the Corvair were considered sports cars rather than 'economy' cars including Monza Spyder models, which featured one of the first production car turbocharged engines. The Corvair Monza inspired the Ford Mustang, introduced in 1964, establishing the "pony car" class which included Corvair's replacement, the Chevrolet Camaro in 1967, continuing the American muscle car boom started in mid-1960s.

1970s–1990s

The 1973 oil crisis renewed emphasis on economy of vehicle operation, especially in the United States with its greater distances, arguably the nation hardest hit because of the prevalence of large, fuel-thirsty cars. At the same time, new emissions and safety regulations were being implemented requiring major and costly changes to domestic vehicle design and construction. The sales of imported economy cars continued to rise throughout the sixties, seventies, and eighties. The first response by domestic Americanmarker car makers included the FR layout cars, the AMC Gremlin, Chevrolet Vega, Ford Pinto and Chevrolet Chevette.

AMC was determined to have the first subcompact offering. The 1970 AMC Gremlin was the first domestic-built subcompact car. Sales began six months ahead of the all-new models from GM and Ford. The Gremlin used the AMC Hornet's existing design with a shortened wheelbase and "chopped" tail, and had an important low-price advantage.

The Chevrolet Vega, introduced in September 1970, was GM's first subcompact, economy car. Nearly two million were sold over its seven-years of production. due in part to its low price and fuel economy. By 1974, the Vega was among the top 10 best selling American-made cars. but the aluminum-block engine developed a questionable reputation. Chevrolet increased the engine warranty to to all Vega owners and was costly for Chevrolet.The Astre, Pontiac's version of the Vega, was exclusively available in Canada for 1973 and introduced for the US in September 1974. The 1976 Vega had extensive engine and body durability improvements and a five-year/ engine warranty. After a three year sales decline, the Vega and its aluminum engine were discontinued for 1978 and lower priced hatchback and notchback versions of the Vega-based Chevrolet Monza were introduced. The Monza S hatchback, a price leader model using the Vega Hatchback body, was offered in 1978. The Monza wagon used the Vega Kammback body and was offered in 1978-79.

The Ford Pinto was introduced one day after the Vega. It was small, economical, and a good seller. However, it also had design and safety issues. The Pinto made Time magazine's 'The 50 worst cars of all time list'. They shoot horses, don't they? Well, this is fish in a barrel. Of course the Pinto goes on the Worst list, but not because it was a particularly bad car — not particularly — but because it had a rather volatile nature. The car tended to erupt in flame in rear-end collisions. The Pinto is at the end of one of autodom's most notorious paper trails, the Ford Pinto memo, which ruthlessly calculates the cost of reinforcing the rear end ($121 million) versus the potential payout to victims ($50 million). Conclusion? Let 'em burn.

The Chevrolet Chevette was introduced in September 1975 and produced through 1987. It was a successful and 'Americanized' design from experienced, (but technologically conservative) Opel, GM's German subsidiary. The Auto Editors of Consumer Guide said, "In its dozen years on the market, Chevette had earned a reputation for being a simple, straightforward car offering high fuel economy and steadfast reliability. It left in its wake a sea of happy owners, and many no doubt mourned its passing." Ford followed suite with the Ford Escort.

Chevrolet offered three new small economy cars in the 1980s to replace the Chevette. The Chevrolet Sprint, a three-cylinder Suzuki-built hatchback, The Chevrolet Spectrum built by Isuzu and the Chevrolet Nova built by NUMMImarker in California, a GM-Toyota joint venture. Chevrolet offered the Geo brand in the 1990s featuring the Suzuki-built Metro, the Isuzu-built Storm, and the NUMMI-built Prizm.

Captive imports was the other response by U.S. car makers to the increase in popularity of imported economy cars in the 1970s and 80s. These were cars bought from overseas subsidiaries or from companies in which they held a significant shareholding. GM, Ford, and Chrysler sold imports for the U.S. market. The Buick Opel, Ford Cortina, Mercury Capri, Ford Festiva, and Dodge Colt are examples.

Technologies that developed during the post-war era, such as disc brakes, overhead cam engines and radial tires, had become cheap enough to be used in economy cars at this time, (radials began to be adopted in the 1950s and 60s in Europe). This led to iconic cars such as the 1974 Mk 1 Volkswagen Golf designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, Fiat 128 and 1972 Honda Civic. The Civic's CVCC (Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion) Stratified charge engine engine debuted in 1975 and was offered alongside the standard Civic engine. The CVCC engine had a head design that promoted cleaner, more efficient combustion, eliminating a need for a catalytic converter to meet emissions standards - nearly every other U.S. market car for this year needed exhausts with catalytic converters. The Japanese, who had previously competed on price, equipment and reliability with conservative designs, were starting to make advanced, globally competitive cars.

Some previously-exotic technology electronic fuel injection became affordable, which allowed the production of high-performance hot hatch sport compacts like the 1976 Volkswagen Golf GTI. This car combined economy of use and a practical hatchback body, with the performance and driving fun of a traditional sports car several times its price.

Also introduced in 1976 was the 1.5L VW Golf diesel - the first small diesel hatchback. It used new Bosch rotary mechanical diesel injection pump technology. Also in 1976, Ford of Europe launched their first front wheel drive car, the Ford Fiesta.

In 1980 Fiat introduced the Guigaro designed Mk 1 Fiat Panda. It was originally designed to be produced in China at its 1970s level of industrialisation. It was a utilitarian front wheel drive supermini with Fiat standard transverse engine and end-on gearbox. It featured mostly flat body panels and flat glass.

In 1982 GM launched their first front wheel drive economy car, the Opel Corsa/Vauxhall Nova in Europe. Their first european market front wheel drive car, the midrange mark two Vauxhall Cavalier GM J platform 'world car', having been introduced the previous year.

In 1983 Fiat launched the next step forward in small car design, the Fiat Uno. It was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro's ItalDesign. The tall, square body utilising a Kamm tail achieved a low drag coefficient of 0.34, and it won much praise for an airy interior space and fuel economy. It incorporated many packaging lessons learnt from Giugiaro's 1978 Lancia Megagamma concept car, (the first modern people carrier-MPV-mini-van)—but miniaturised. Its tall car – high seating packaging is imitated by every small car today. It showed that not just low sleek cars could be aerodynamic, but small boxy well packaged cars could be too. It was voted Car of the Year in 1984.

Also in 1983 Peugeot launched the Pininfarina styled Peugeot 205. While not as radical as the Uno in body design, it was also very aerodynamic. It was the first European supermini with a diesel engine - the XUD. It provided performance of a 1.4 L petrol with economy- - that was better than the base 1 L petrol version. It could like most diesel engines, last for several hundred thousand miles with regular servicing. It was, along with the larger (also XUD powered) Citroen BX, the beginning of the start of the boom in diesel sales in Europe.

In 1993 Fiat launched the Fiat Cinquecento. It replaced the first Fiat Panda and the aged 1970s Fiat 126 which was developed from the 1950s Fiat 500. But the real breakthrough in smallcar-design was the 1993 Renault Twingo which was a revolution in packaging. The Twingo had the interior-space of a much higher class car. It relaunched the city car market in Europe, for decades the only competitors in this market were the Austin Mini and the Fiat 126.

Economy cars today

Today economy cars have specialised into market niches. The small city car, the inexpensive-to-run but not necessarily very small general economy car, and the performance derivatives that capitalise on light weight of the cars on which they are based. Some models that started as economy cars have increased in size and moved upmarket over several generations, and their makers have added smaller new models.

The City car market in Europe in recent years has seen increased competition with the launch of the Citroen C1/Peugeot 107/Toyota Aygo (built in the same factory), the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, aluminium Audi A2, Fiat Panda, Kia Picanto, Chevrolet Matiz, Volkswagen Fox, Smart Forfour and Mitsubishi Colt, Ford Ka and Fiat Nuova 500.

The Toyota iQ, designed in France, went on sale in January 2009 in the UK. It follows the Issigonis philosophy of packaging, with innovations including a flat under floor fuel tank and specially-located steering rack and final drive unit to maximise floor space for passengers. It seats four adults in a car long, wide, and tall, and achieves with a 99g/km CO2 rating. It also achieved the top Euro NCAP 5/5 stars safety rating.

Another development in recent years in Europe, has been the launch of small supermini based people carriers like the Renault Modus, Citroen C3 Picasso, Fiat Idea, Nissan Note and Vauxhall/Opel Meriva, which is also produced in Brazil. By dint of their tall packaging, they offer the interior space of a larger car with lower running costs and carbon emissions. The high seating gives better visibility for the driver, which is useful in urban driving.

The conflicting design goals for economy cars—small ize with maximum usable space; low cost and light weight with acceptable safety performance, ride quality, and durability—continue to be the driving force behind development. Technology improvements such as electronic engine management, hybrid power, and smoother, more powerful diesel engines first seen in the VW Golf and Peugeot 205 have improved fuel economy and performance. The latest technology to improve efficiency is automatic engine stop-start, which stops the engine when the car is stopped to reduce idling emissions and boost economy. It is an updated version of the 1980s VW 'Formel E' idea. Safety design is a particular challenge in a small, lightweight car. This is an area where Renault has been particularly successful. Sport compacts and Hot hatches have developed into a highly competitive genre, although outright economy has been substantially compromised, they are still the most economical cars for their performance - because of the lightness of the cars that they are based upon.

As an alternative to manual synchromesh gearboxes, automatic CVT gearboxes can be had on some economy cars, such as Audi, Honda and the MINI ONE and MINI Cooper. Tata Motors from Indiamarker, recently announced that it too would use a variomatic transmission in its $2500 Nano.. CVT application to economy cars was pioneered by Fiat, Ford and Van Doorne in the 1980s. Rather than the pulled rubber drive belts as used in the past by DAF, the modern transmission is made much more durable by the use of electronic control and steel link belts pushed by their pulleys.

A crucial difference between the North American car market and the markets of Europe and Japan is the price of fuel. Fuel is heavily taxed and therefore relatively costly in most first-world markets outside North America; fuel is about two and a half times the price in the UK than the US. Fuel costs are also a much higher proportion of income, due to generally higher wages and lower living costs in the US. Only during occasional fuel price spikes such as those of 1973, 1979-81, and 2008-9 have North American drivers been motivated to seek levels of fuel economy considered ordinary outside North America.

The growth of developing countries has also created a new market for inexpensive new cars. Adaptation of standard or obsolete models from the first world has been the norm. Production of car models superseded in first-world markets is often moved to cost-sensitive markets like South Africa and Brazilmarker; the Citi Golf is an example.Some mainstream European auto makers have developed models specifically for developing countries, such as the Fiat Palio, Volkswagen Gol and Dacia Logan. Renault has teamed up with India's Mahindra and Mahindra to produce a low-cost car in the range of US$2,500 to $3,000.The Tata Nano launched in January 2008, in Indiamarker by Tata Motors, may mark the beginning of the return of so-called "people's cars" because of its low announced price - claimed by Tata as the world's cheapest car at US$2,500. The Nano, like the 1950s Fiat 500, has a rear engine and was styled by Italians. It is designed to get whole families off scooters and onto four wheels. Tata has also announced plans to export their Tata Indica that was formerly sold in Europe as the City Rover.

The narrow profit margins of economy cars can cause financial instability for their manufacturers. Historically, Volkswagen in the 1970s and Ford in the 1920s almost collapsed because of their one model economy car policies. Ford was saved by the Model A and Volkswagen was saved by the Golf. Ford started the Mercury and Lincoln brands to diversify its product range. VW moved away from the narrow profit margins of economy cars, by expanding its range so that now it spans from very small city cars like the Volkswagen Fox to Audis and Bentleys, and it also owns SEAT and Skoda.

Chinamarker has become one of the fastest-growing car markets, followed by Indiamarker with a preference towards inexpensive, basic cars, but they are moving upmarket in their tastes as their economic rise continues. The Suzuki Alto and Hyundai i10 are already being exported to Europe from Indiamarker.

List of economy cars







References

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  4. www.auto-historia.com History of Ford Motors Argentina - Retrieved on 19 November 2008
  5. Celebrating the Ford Model T, only 100 years young!, accessed 22 Sep 2008
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  8. Motor Trend-August 1973. 15 Cars to own in a Gas Crisis
  9. Motor Trend-April 1975. "The Ten Best Selling (American-made) Cars in the Country"
  10. 1976 Chevrolet Vega brochure.
  11. Collectable Automobile April 2000
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