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The Bubble is Back: Micro cars make a comeback

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

The Bubble is Back: Micro cars make a comeback

Isla Campbell
February 21, 2008

With a more environmentally conscious world than ever before, manufacturers are continually looking for new ways to give people less car for their money. But in the world of motoring, less can often mean more; less weight means more fuel efficiency, smaller engine sizes mean lower fuel consumption, and lower fuel consumption combined with more fuel efficiency means less money needs to be spent on fuel.

However, thinking small isn't a new thing; it was the lack of materials and fuel after WW2 that first prompted the development of the Bubble Car. The crippling shortages meant that car manufacturers had to think small, and it was talented engineers - many of whom had worked in the former military aircraft industry - that decided to downsize the family motor. Known as Bubble Cars due to their dome-like rounded shape, these vehicles became a common sight on the roads of Europe during the fifties and sixties.

Because these cars cost less to make than larger vehicles the barrier to entry was smaller, and a number of small manufacturers enjoyed a brief period of success before being squeezed out of the market by the big boys of the time such as German engineering company Messerschmitt.

But the Bubble Car was more than just an automobile. It symbolised a new dawn for Europe, and signalled a renewed energy and prosperity for its people, striving to recover from the rubble of a bombed-out civilisation, who needed cars but who couldn't rely on the savings or car credit options we enjoy today, to buy one.

However, the Bubble Car boom was to be short lived; rising standards of living and the rebuilding of Europe's war-torn nations meant that production of raw materials began to rise again, and within a decade, consumers wanted to drive bigger cars that reflected the growing wealth of the people.

And so a period of growth began where cars got bigger, bolder and brasher, leading right up to the 90s with the current, so-called "Soccer Mums" driving massive petrol guzzling Sports Utility Vehicles (nicknamed Chelsea Tractors) in inner city areas just to do the shopping and drop off the kids. This excessive consumption of fuel has led to a public backlash, with pressure groups campaigning for the banning of such vehicles in city centres, citing that they produce unnecessarily high carbon emissions, aggravate already severe traffic conditions, heighten parking problems and are purely fashion accessories rather than necessary modes of transport.

Now, however, the car industry is looking to downsize once more, and we could soon see a revolution in micro-cars. Of course, there have always been several small cars on the market - the ever popular Mini being one example that is still going strong, but it seems that more and more manufacturers are developing smaller cars, such as the Aptera, the Tata Nano, and of course the Smart Car which has now been in production for over a decade.

The micro-car craze is yet to really take off in North America, where oversized engines have always been the order of the day, but in Europe, drivers are welcoming the smaller vehicles and appreciate that where cars are concerned, small really is beautiful.



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