By Lothar Spurzem - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.0 de,

City Cars Are Dying Off, But Should They Be Rescued?

By Lothar Spurzem - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.0 de,

All across Europe the sales of city cars are declining and fewer models are being released. But is this decline inevitable or can it be reversed?

The Loss Of A Segment

The very idea of a small and affordable car may soon be consigned to history. Humble city cars are, essentially, at risk of extinction. Often costing as much to assemble as larger models, they fetch far smaller profits. With a changing landscape in urban transport, demand is also falling sharply. Automakers are also on the precipice thanks to exceedingly challenging emissions targets and unfavourable market conditions. Meaning that, for many of them, slashing their smaller and most affordable models makes perfect business sense. But the only real victim of this are consumers themselves, a significant amount of which will be cut out of car-ownership; especially poorer or younger groups.

Traditionally the city car was designed to whizz through crowded and narrow streets; easily contending with alleys and tight parking spaces. They were ideal for students, older drivers or motorists covering a lower mileage. But more than all of this, they often cost less than £15,000; making the prospect of owning a worthwhile car feasible for millions. This was the case regardless of whether one lived in a city or not. So the fact that we’re watching a slaughter of smaller model sales like the Suzuki Celerio, Renault Twingo and Vauxhall Viva is bad news. The only notable city car that’ll be reaching us anytime soon is the Honda E; which costs in excess of £30,000!

Should The City Car Be Saved? 

The city car is under assault from two directions. On one flank we find agitation for the increased pedestrianisation of cities, especially their densely populated centres. On the other, we have automakers who simply don’t see how they can continue to flog such cheap offerings. So there’s a few things we can assume from get the get go. Forcing smaller cars off of the roads can actually encourage the adoption of larger (and more polluting models). There’s also the risk that older and dirtier city cars will simply circulate for longer in the used car market. After all, it’s unlikely that motorists relying upon city cars for their mobility will turn their backs on driving simply because new models become few and far between. We should also consider the long-term financial viability of automakers offering increasingly costly offerings, especially at a time of financial uncertainty.

From a strictly environmental perspective, smaller cars are ‘better’. They use fewer raw materials and, in nearly all cases, emit fewer emissions. It’s a great irony, then, that pedestrianisation and ‘green’ initiatives (like London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone) are killing off the segment. Meanwhile, consumers have moved en masse towards SUVs. So much so that the formally American obsession has become a controversial topic in Europe; including Germany, where protests have erupted.

A Real Loss

City cars offer what we might call ‘mobility justice.’ A Dacia Sandero will set you back just £6,995, and a Skoda Citigo £8,635. That brings car-ownership and the freedom it entails to some of the poorest members of society. Whilst public transport might have rendered cars obsolete in much of London, the circumstances aren’t the same in the likes of Manchester or Birmingham; where alternatives aren’t nearly as extensive. Until lobbyists, politicians and automakers find an alternative to mass car-ownership, it makes little sense to turn our backs on the most affordable, least-polluting and some of the most practical cars currently available. In isolation, we gain nothing by their loss.

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