Monday, March 31, 2008

The Little Engines That Would

These new vehicles are zippy and green, but are American drivers ready for cute?

By David Kiley

When Volkswagen (VLKAY) ran the headline “Think Small” in an ad for the Beetle some 45 years ago, it bestowed hipness on a car that was merely well designed, well built, and pint-sized. In the 1980s, makers of sport-utility vehicles started persuading everyone from Nascar dads to yoga teachers that they might want to drive into the mountains on a moment’s notice—even if they never got farther off-road than a pothole in the Whole Foods (WFMI) parking lot. In Europe and Asia, where everyone is fretting about road congestion and damaging exhaust, car companies now see profits in green avant-garde designs. And with gas prices heading north of $4.00 a gallon, such vehicles just might cut it in the jeep-loving USA as well.

Here are some of the designs that are in the drawing boards, already selling in dealerships and have come and gone.

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