Cars of the future on display

Music blared and lights blinked as the pint-sized car descended from the ceiling. A platform lowered it to the ground and photographers rushed to snap pictures.

Stefan Jacoby

NEW YORK — Music blared and lights blinked as the pint-sized car descended from the ceiling. A platform lowered it to the ground and photographers rushed to snap pictures.

This was how the Toyota showed off its latest, tiniest car — the iQ — at the New York International Auto Show. The message from the Japanese automaker was clear: This is the car of tomorrow.

But is it?

Small cars and hybrids surged in popularity last summer as gasoline prices blew past US$4 a gallon in the United States. Compacts and subcompacts — including cars like the Toyota Yaris and Ford Focus — surged to more than a quarter of new vehicle sales in June and July, suggests auto website Edmunds.com.

But as the economy sputtered and gas prices collapsed, small cars lost ground to trucks and sport utility vehicles. Compacts and subcompacts last month commanded about 20 per cent of the new car market, stated Edmunds.

Small car still took centre stage at the New York auto show, which opens to the public on Friday after two days of media previews. Automakers unveiled their fair share of sedans and crossovers, but much of the attention was on cars like the iQ, the Fiat 500 and the Volkswagen Golf VI, which won the show’s top award.

“It is the time for small cars,” said Stefan Jacoby, chief executive Volkswagen of America.

One of Toyota Motor Corp.’s main attractions is the iQ, a tiny model that has room for three adults and is on sale in Europe and Japan.

Toyota, which is displaying the car with a Scion badge in New York, is still weighing a U.S. release date.

The Golf VI took the show’s World Car of the Year award. The car is on sale only in Europe, but it is similar to the Volkswagen Rabbit compact car in the United States.

Its competition for the prize? The Ford Fiesta small car and the iQ.

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