Popularity of affordable small cars gets bigger

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Popularity of affordable small cars gets bigger

The minicar is typically associated with being a lightweight vehicle, though in official terms it’s most known for being economical - they’re more affordable and generally require less maintenance after purchase.

The Tico, produced by Daewoo - the predecessor to GM Korea - launched in 1991 and began a new era for minicars.

Its name comes from combining the first two letters of the words “tiny” and “tight,” with the last two letters from “convenient” and “cozy.”

Daewoo, which lacked self-production capabilities at the time, began developing the Tico, modeled off the Alto, a minicar produced in 1988 by Japanese automaker Suzuki.

The vehicle has a three-cylinder engine with a displacement of 800 cubic centimeters - as mini as its name.

It weighs 640 kilograms (0.7 tons), with a fuel efficiency of 24.1 kilometers per liter (56.7 miles per gallon).

Sales reached 30,000 units in its first year, owing to its relatively cheap price of 3 million to 4 million won.

In 1996, when oil prices skyrocketed, Tico’s annual sales increased to 103,000 units, proudly taking the title of the “people’s car.”

Its popularity also led to its sale in countries like Rumania, Bulgaria, Poland and the Czech Republic.

Hyundai Motors released the Atoz in 1997 and the Kia Visto in 1998, reacting to surging Tico sales.

The Atoz seemed to be consumers’ top choice directly following its launch. However, Daewoo defended its top rank by introducing the Matiz in 1998, a follow-up to the Tico.

Consequently, Hyundai stopped producing the Atoz by 2002, while continuing to the Matiz, which was renamed as the Chevrolet Spark in 2011.

Morning, the successor to the Visto, was launched in 2004 and categorized as compact car.

However, it was labeled a minicar in 2008 when the upper limit for the minicar engine size was upgraded from 800 cubic centimeters to 1,000 cubic centimeters.

Since then, the Morning has remained No. 1 in annual sales. The Boxcar Ray, modeled after the Morning, subsequently rolled out in 2011.

Recently released minicars have had several upgrades compared to their predecessors.

Now, they come with more advanced safety functions and have enhanced stability control.

BY KIM KI-HWAN [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]

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