It's taken Volkswagen several auto shows to unfold its vision for microcars of the future, but Malaysian automaker Proton, coupled with ItalDesign, are introducing a concept car and a crossover spin-off at the 2010 Geneva motor show.
We've yet to see an official name for either concept (the press release simply refers to the duo as "Eco-Cars"), but we do know a fair amount about them. Dubbed an "A-segment" vehicle, the Proton concepts are tiny -- in fact, at 139.8" long, they're roughly two feet shorter than a Honda Fit.
But as the saying goes, it's what's inside that counts. Despite their physical dimensions, both concepts offer a considerable amount of interior room to their passengers. ItalDesign calls for a tall seating position, more akin to a compact SUV than a typical C-segment hatchback.
Such a seating position helps cater to drivers used to larger vehicles, but it also helps serve an engineering function. By raising the interior, engineers can squeeze advanced powertrain components underneath the vehicle. Proton called upon the wizards at its British subsidiary -- Group Lotus -- to help craft a gas-electric hybrid system.
While a 1.2-liter I-3 internal combustion engine is placed ahead of the cabin and an electric motor is tucked between the rear wheels, a lithium-ion battery pack, along with a fuel tank, are sandwiched underneath the floor. The cars are driven only by the electric motor -- as is the case with the Chevrolet Volt, the combustion engine serves only to recharge the batteries.
Visually, both concepts are cleanly styled, but nothing revolutionary. Both the hatchback and crossover share rear styling that vaguely recalls some of the VW Up! showcars, but have aggressive side sculpting and unique front fascias. All that differentiates a "crossover" from its passenger-car sibling, it seems, is a front fascia, flared wheel wheels, and a taller ride height.
Neither Proton or ItalDesign have indicated if these are anything more than mere showcars, but given the commonality between the two, the involvement of Lotus engineers, and the forthcoming launch of a competitive Volkswagen model, we wouldn't be too surprised to see these Eco-Cars on European streets within the next decade.