Toyota joins the subcompact car market

For over a decade the Smart ForTwo has been plying the roads of Europe, and gradually made it to other markets such as Canada and the US. Here in the Philippines, it has to be imported directly by buyers, accounting for its rarity. But if Toyota Philippines has its way, the ForTwo may have competition in the form of the Japanese carmaker’s own subcompact model, the iQ. Formally announced at the 2008 Geneva Auto Show and released in Japan in October 2008 and in the UK in January 2009, there is no official word from Toyota Philippines when (hopefully not if) the iQ will be released here. That hasn’t stopped the curious from inquiring about its future availability. Over at the US, it is reported that it will be released under the “Scion” brand. As for “iQ”, well, it is an obvious answer to the ForTwo’s “Smart” brand name.

Although in size the iQ is close to the ForTwo, one difference with the latter is that the former has two rear passenger seats that can be folded forward and down to provide ample storage space at the back. In the upright position, they can accommodate two children, or small-bodied adults.

I think the iQ could become a success in Metro Manila, at least. It appears that many car drivers drive only themselves or with one passenger, and driving a standard-sized sedan with those empty passenger seats at the rear seems a waste of space. But with the iQ, one makes more use of the available space. As a bonus, it occupies less space in stalled traffic and in parallel parking. I’d want to drive the iQ, since I mostly drive just myself on those days I bring the car to work, which is less then six kilometers away from home. And when I go for groceries, the mall is just within reach of the office and only a bit farther away from home.

One concern on potential buyers’ minds is safety. There is the perception that a subcompact car is inherently less safe than a sedan because the smaller frame dissipates the energy of an impact less safely, and there is no way to cram in sufficient safety safety features in such a small space. Toyota is well aware of this concern, and perhaps learning from the experience of Smart, incorporated features that should protect passengers from all but the most violent of impacts.

The second concern is the reaction of fellow drivers. Like it or not, there are a few bus drivers out there who seem to get their kicks out of harassing or bullying really small vehicles, whether these are cars, motorcycles, or motorcycles converted into mini-delivery vans. Ever seen two bus drivers glance knowingly at each other and sandwich a car in the lane between them? Or a bus trying to nudge a car next to it? Believe me, should the iQ become popular here it won’t be long before we hear horror stories from drivers who’ve been bullied by buses. If you’re going to drive an iQ here (and my hat’s off to those lucky few ForTwo drivers who have the bravery to take on Metro Manila’s sometimes hazardous roads), better learn to drive with confidence, and don’t take any bull from other drivers.

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