Europe Readies Itself For Return of Tiny Cars

THE voiturette - a car so small it requires no license to operate - has come and gone from Paris streets. Nevertheless, Europe is set to receive a wave of tiny cars by the end of the decade.

With traffic and parking problems only getting worse in Europe's cities, and with research showing that there are on average 1.2 people riding in each urban car, manufacturers in the European market are busy unveiling micro cars that make Britain's Mini look like a Cadillac.

Ford Motor Co. unveiled its concept for a micro at the Geneva car show this week, right on the heels of last week's introduction by Mercedes-Benz and Switzerland's SMH - maker of the Swatch watch - of their snub-nosed Swatchmobile. Other manufacturers also are readying their prototypes.

The two-seat Swatchmobile, set for the showrooms in 1997, will be about 8 feet (2.5 meters) long - offering the priceless advantage of perpendicular parking in parallel spaces. The car, expected to cost about $12,000, will have the added attraction of being environment-friendly, although Mercedes and Swatch have yet to decide if it will be electric- or liquid-fuel-powered, or a combination of the two.

Despite the indisputable impetus the Swatchmobile will give the micro car concept, some manufacturers worry whether consumers really will go for a strictly two-passenger vehicle in a high-volume way. One might also wonder, given how some models of the ubiquitous Swatch watch have grown in size over the years, whether the Swatchmobile will not also expand over time.

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