Toyota Rethinking the Possibility of an iQ for the U.S.

By Editors on January 26, 2009 2:20 PM

A subject of rumors since it was shown in production form at last year's Geneva Motor Show, the diminutive Toyota iQ may be inching its way closer to a spot in the automaker's U.S. lineup. Originally, the car was deemed a total non-starter for the American market. However, at last-week's Automotive News World Conference, Toyota's Senior VP of Automotive Operations Don Esmond confirmed that the possibility of having it fill a new sub-Yaris niche here was at least being talked about more seriously among the firm's executive ranks -- on both sides of the Pacific.

Converting this slick little urbo-runner to full fed-spec status would require a good deal of reengineering, primarily in the crash structure areas. However, Toyota showed a pure electric concept version of the car at the recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit, stating that the one-off FT-EV "architecture" would serve as the basis for the first of its upcoming EV models due to launch here in 2012. Reading between the lines, one might be inclined to believe much of the formal redesign work needed to make that happen for a gasoline-engine equivalent was either completed or well on its way.

The production iQ has become an immediate smash in its home market, recently winning Japanese Car of the Year honors in a landslide vote. Just slightly larger than a smart fortwo but offering seating for four, the domestic iQ uses a 1.0-liter engine that returns over 65 mpg when linked to a manual transmission. Whether that same 67-horsepower four-cylinder would be able to cope with the added weight of 5-mph bumpers plus the requisite automatic transmission remains to be seen. Pricing also could prove to be a thorny issue. But whatever the case, it appears more and more likely that Toyota has contingency plans that would enable the iQ to be up and running here in rather short order should it receive a final go-ahead.