One of the most popular cars in Rome is one we never saw in the U.S. and is now out of production. Although the Toyota Yaris is a common sight on American roads, we never got the brilliant version known as the Yaris Verso.
The Yaris Verso: a familiar sight on Roman streets. (Jim Motavalli photo)
Of course, there's a good reason for this -- it would have been competition for Toyota's own Scion xB as a multi-purpose vehicle with a tiny exterior and a huge interior. Like the xB, this Yaris -- replaced in 2004 by the sleek but not quite as fun Ractis -- is stubby but tall, with seats that fold every which way to create a huge cargo area.
There are many cars of this type on European roads, from Renault, Citroen, Volkswagen, Nissan and many others. It's a vehicle style that is almost unknown in the U.S., but you'd think the runaway success of the xB would have opened up a market. And when they do introduce something like the xB, their instinct is always to make the second generation larger. The second gen xB is just another SUV to me.
The other thing that amazed me about the Roman traffic was the plethora of Smart cars, and many even smaller micros from manufacturers I've never encountered before. Now that I've gotten a good look at the very narrow and ancient cobblestoned streets of this Eternal City, it makes a lot of sense.
Chrysler is in talks about an alliance with the ubiquitous Fiat. A visit here confirms the gigantic range of this company (and its subsidiary, Alfa-Romeo). In all likelihood, we would see only a few Fiat models in the U.S., some badged as Chryslers. The very cute and retro 500 is a definite contender, possibly to be built in Mexico.
I like the Fiat Multipla, a very odd looking but totally practical combination of small car and minivan. The roads are thronged with fanciful vehicles like that, and if we can bring a little Italian flair to our drab freeways lined with gas guzzlers, I'm all for it. The Fiat 500 gets 50 mpg, by the way, and Fiat has the lowest carbon emissions of any manufacturer in Europe.
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