Sometime in the last decade, sedans began to fall out of favor with the market. As manufacturers saw the potential of the SUV, every brand from South Korea to the US to Germany leapt on the bandwagon, churning out truck lets of every size and price conceivable. Even the hallowed sports car brand, Porsche couldn’t pass up the chance and thus came up with the Cayenne.

But last year, skyrocketing oil price burst the bubble fro predominantly gas-guzzling SUVs. Today, even with lower fuel process, a Hummer in the garage just isn’t as appealing what with recession chic inmost consumers’ minds. But as an offshoot of the SUV phenomenon, the general “box”, denoting a compartment for the engine bay, another for the cabin, format came back into fashion It was thought to have died with the hatchback in the 80’s, but thanks to the macho wagon look of the SUV, box like vehicles are now back in style whether it’s a humble Hyundai i01 or a subtle Kia Carens.

Still, even as the industry is coping with the financial crisis, several players have already gotten a head start with what it thinks the market will want in the next few years. Here are three of the most intriguing so far:


Skeptics said it couldn’t be done, that there was no way the Indian conglomerate could produce “the cheapest car in the world” without shooting itself in the foot. But TATA saw the potential and the need for just such a car in the world’s most populous country.

To cut down on weight and sheet metal, the Nano is just 122 inches long and uses a “monobox” format. That’s right, there’s no engine bay because that and the transmission are behind and below the rear seat. The motor itself is just a 34-HP, .6Liter 2 cylinder; some motorcycles have more guts that this. Further innovation in the name of cost-cutting involved deleting the rear doors and a tailgate, no power steering, no brake booster, no heater, and it rolls about on tiny 12-inch wheels and tires.


The cube is a little late to the box party begun by the Honda Element, Scion xB, and Kia
Soul, but makes up for it with Apple-esque attitude. Its US marketing campaign eschews traditional motorhead lingo like “horsepower” or “torque” for more techie terms, calling it like a giant iPod with gentle contours to smoothen out its cubist lines, and exceptionally large windows with which to “browse” the countryside. Inside, creative packaging enables the diminutive Cube to have a “storage capacity”, and the rear door opens to the side like a refrigerator’s.


The iQ is a microcar aimed at buyers who don’t want to look cheap. At just 117 inches long, it’s even shorter that the Tata Nano. Yet it’s a four passenger, three door hatchback sporting a lot of attitude to make up for its size. The wheels, pushed out to the very edges of the vehicle, are housed in bulging fenders. The pugnacious, edgy front fascia brings to mind a bulldog. The interior, characterized by curves in the doors and dash, is strikingly broken up with an inverted triangle center console. To free up passenger space, the transmission housing is in front of the engine, the starter motor is incorporated in the flywheel, the steering rack is placed up high, and a miniaturized A/C unit is housed in a pod above the dash. All these allowed the engineers to really push the cabin firewall forward. Furthermore, the passenger side of the asymmetrical dashboard is almost non-existent to free up legroom. Finally, a shallow fuel tank is use, placed below the floor to reduce rear overhang.


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