People love cheap cars, but hate cars that look cheap

Entry-level models were the most noticeable in the 1980s, when they would use unpainted bumpers and iron wheels

One of the latest trends we were building up to the beginning of this year was to create and adopt new solutions for transportation. Ride-sharing apps would take the concept of carpooling to the next level, self-driving cars could make transportation safer and more accessible, and electric propulsion would collaborate to energetic efficiency. However, the latest pandemic took the world by surprise and triggered a health crisis whose effects are yet to be fully understood and estimated.

After having its sales plummet in the first weeks, the automotive industry has finally started recovering in May: companies are slowly resuming production, as CAR Magazine says, and dealers are trying to attract people back by making several new sanitizing efforts, as Car and Driver shows. For now, they can only pick up the pieces and do whatever they can to resume normal activity as soon as possible. However, people are already studying which permanent changes industry and market might face.

The DS 9 was supposed to have its E-Tense electric version revealed in this year’s Geneva Auto Show, which was cancelled

Private cars are in again

One of the strongest recommendations we’ve been made is to avoid crowds of all sorts. Having your own vehicle is highly effective for that because it means staying away from bus stops and train stations; ride-sharing cars aren’t helpful as we think because, though they take fewer people per day, these people stay closer to the driver and engage in conversation more often. The thing is, most people resort to those solutions for a reason: in general, private cars are rather expensive to buy and keep.

Sure, when we consider new and used models, we can say the market already offers enough options for all budgets. The problem lies on the lower end of the price range because those drivers are forced to choose between a new car with pretty much the necessary items to function and a well-equipped one that has been around for quite a while. While this dilemma has haunted cars since they reached mass production, the latest changes our society is undergoing clearly call for it to be reconsidered.

Nissan brought the Datsun name back to life as a low-cost division, which released the GO and GO+ models in 2014 and facelifted them in 2018

A very sensitive topic

Simply put, there’s been no way to make low-cost cars desirable. The easiest is to take a regular model and strip it from items, but that leads us to a standard like the 205’s of the first photo — unpainted bumpers and steel wheels became a thing of the past precisely because automakers were demanded to raise the bar. As if it wasn’t enough, cost-cutting efforts often reach comfort and safety equipment, which makes the whole topic take a wrong turn. That’s why most companies are trying new things.

When you analyze the variables at hand, you can also think of downsizing in a general way: smaller cars with less equipment and smaller powertrain output. Emergent markets are filled with those cars because legislation usually favors them, but that only means making people choose between several mediocre models which are unpleasant to keep as they probably were to design. Based on this Carscoops story, Datsun was deemed unappealing despite having been created for the low-cost market.

While the 500 lineup is playful and sporty, the Tipo family is much more rational. It allows Fiat to attract a whole new type of customers

What to do, then?

So far, we can say many people want private transportation more than before the pandemic, but still don’t want cars that literally make them look poor. One possible outcome is the rise of rational cars. Models that combine comfortable cabin, efficient powertrain, attractive design and safety equipment in a way to offer pleasant everyday driving and affordable maintenance at the expense of not being a reference in anything. There already are a few examples around, but they tend to become more popular.

The modern-day Fiat Tipo can be considered one of those. Its size and content are slotted between compact and midsized models and it matches the criteria without impressing in any of them; the car prefers to do everything right than to stand out at one thing. It comes in hatchback, sedan and station wagon and only follows non-controversial trends like offering infotainment system with a large screen and some downsized engine options. Even the sporty trim levels are limited to visual accessories.

Škoda replaced the Rapid with the Scala using more aggressive styling and only the hatchback body in order to better meet its demand

New rules make new players

Those cars have never prospered because there’s never been a stable demand for them — people have always valued emotional aspects such as breathtaking design or powerful engines. Now that the game has dramatically changed, the time has finally come for rational cars; once companies pay closer attention to them, they’re expected to render traditional low-cost models outdated simply by being more pleasant in everyday use, especially for small families, without costing that much.

When the situation starts to calm down, automakers must be fully prepared to deliver what people will seek. Smart design and production will allow them to offer that level of content without charging much more, which means rational cars should hit just the right spot. If that actually happens, car models like the Tipo and the Scala will help reshape the standards for entry-level automobiles around the world and, in the long run, contribute to finding new solutions for urban transportation.

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Danillo Almeida

Danillo Almeida

3.3K Followers

Content writer and engineer-to-be who aspires to work in car design. If you like cars but not the stereotypes that surround them, give my articles a try.