Designing small cars

Hi all

With the growing global economy with increasing traffic pressure, the demand of affordable small cars is likely to go up greatly. There is a great possibility of small cars to become a general trend in developing countries like India.

I am looking for the factors to be taken for design of such small low cost cars for developing countries.

But, how to set up the priorities for small low cost cars… which should come first… cost, look, performance…? It would be of great help if I get direction with some useful information and links.


Cost and functionality. Aesthetic doesn’t cost anything and performance is not even discussed.

My sister had a Toyota Vitz, 1.3 liter engine if I am not wrong, and she said there isn’t even a techometer cus it didn’t needed one! The interior space was , however, surprisingly big. The car sounds like an electric one.

There are tons and tons of micro-cars over the past few decades from both Japan and Europe. You may want to purchase this special issue of Car Styling on micro cars. My friend borrowed mine, so I can’t tell you exactly what the name is.

Well thanx Juan,

I agree… performance and features may not be important when we talk about cost reduction. But I feel aesthetics is stil a key of design to find a good market.

Wel, Vitz is a good reference for me… It has got fairly remarkable features and styling within a small size!


there were many cool small cars produced in europe on basically modified motorcycle engines. here are some names you can google if you are interested:

Peel trident
Issetta bmw
messerschmitt kr200

You might want to check out the Sipani Dolphin (made in Bangalore from 1980s-90s) - plastic body shell, weighs less than half a ton, 850 cc aluminum engine, amazing acceleration and handling (tiny 10" wheels like a kart, rear-wheel drive). Four seater hatchback and wagon.

Based on the Reliant Kitten from England - you’ll be able to find more information on this.

Try posting your question on forums/discussions on if you haven’t already.

A couple thoughts…first, contrary to one of the previous posters comments, aesthetics DOES cost something, sometimes a lot! Go to any auto parts store and ask the price of a 14 inch tire vs. an 18 inch tire…of course the bigger, the more expensive, and usually, the bigger tire looks better on cars. (why do you think show cars usually look better than production cars…ever check the tire size on show cars?!) Now check headlights - your basic 1970’s looking round headlamp will be cheap, while popping into your local Mercedes dealer and asking for a replacement for your high intensity gas discharge lamp with full chrome encasement will be another story. And which headlight do most people think looks more aesthetically pleasing or modern? How about the angle of your windshield/A-pillar…the more upright (vertical), the easier it will be for engineers/manufacturers to design and build a structurally sound/safe vehicle using limited and basic materials, but the more angled (towards horizontal) it becomes, the more sophisticated the engineering must become, the more advanced the structural materials must become (or the more material must be used), and the better the quality of the glass (for distortion concerns) must become - none of those are free! And what do most people think looks better or more up-to-date…the car with the agressive windshield angle or the upright one? Finally, think of bumpers and crash zones…these can be simple chunks of metal and rubber protruding from the frame/body of the vehicle, or these can be carefully integrated and engineered in flexible plastics with all the structure hidden, giving the illusion that there are no bumpers (Audi TT, for example). Which looks better? But which do you think is easier/cheaper to engineer (remember, engineering time = money, hiring experienced/sophisticated engineers = money)?

This is not to say that ocassionally, clever design or new materials/technology/methods don’t change the situation, and this is not to say that it’s impossible to make small tires look aesthetically pleasing…but let’s at least admit that you are fighting an uphill battle to make a cheap car look desirable to the masses. Did you ever see the “China Car” concept shown by Chrysler several years ago (a white, Citroen 2CV like thing)? It was supposedly designed to be cheap to manufacture…most people were not pleased with the final aesthetic, the obviously compromised detailing/fit and finish, and no Chinese were clamoring to get their hands on this product!

On a related note, keep in mind that many customers in developing economies are fully aware of products and brands like Mercedes, BMW, Ferrari, and they aspire to driving something like those products. They do NOT aspire to drive practical, efficient, environmentally conscious, mini vehicles. They, like many people, want to live a taste of their dreams through these purchases, not wallow in their current reality. This is perhaps why we end up seeing small, cheap vehicles coming out of China or Korea, for example, which have as much or more chrome and decoration than any large luxury car in the West - they want to hide the cheapness/practicality behind a surface of glitz. It looks silly and gaudy to “sophisticated” Western eyes, but to a more optimistic or perhaps naive developing economy consumer, he/she sees this as getting a piece of the dream. Don’t sacrifice local tastes and aspirations in your search for cost and practicality benefits.

thanx a lot for ur links and references… those are of really great help

true… we should never compromise with the appearance of the car, just in order to lower down the cost. The critical area in car aesthetics, as u said, should be given more attention. Like headlights, bumper or windshield angle.

The major challange in such project is to meet the aspiration of the customer even when u have so many constraints of features, processes and materials in order to lower down cost. The task is to get the ‘sophisticated western image’ keeping urself within the sphere of constraints.


sorry not very helpful-but had to say

haha love ur icon-

Also, I would appreciate guidelines for the design of interiors in small cars.
I feel it becomes complex when you need to increase the ‘percieved space’ inside the car, having so many constaints of actual spaces and limitation of materials and cost…