It turns out that General Motors wasn't the only automaker to experiment with a 3-wheeled prototype intended to take the sting out of commuting costs. When I started #bcotd, I hadn't imagined there would be so many similar designs for such a car: the Cockpit is most similar in layout and intent to the Volkswagen Scooter, with the Owosso Motor Car Company Pulse and GM XP-511 as variations on the 3-wheel theme. (Actually, I think Volkswagen borrowed one thing from the Cockpit: its side mirrors are also moulded into the front wings (fenders).
Or, if you prefer, I suppose that its opening canopy makes it a modern version of the legendary Messerschmitt KR200.
Like the KR200, the Cockpit relies on just a 200-cc engine, derived from a motorbike or scooter. Sadly, little information on the Cockpit is around, and I can't say where its single-cylinder engine came from—only that its driver would have just 12 horsepower at her disposal.
After being bought and turned into Ford of Europe's in-house-but-at-arms-length design studio, although Ghia was responsible for the Blue Oval's forward-looking concepts, I find their work to be somewhat neutered from what I'd expect to see from an independent design house. The official statement from Filippo Sapino, Ghia's Managing Director was:
"With its advanced aerodynamic design, Cockpit offers the dual advantages of excellent fuel economy linked to a high maximum speed which would provide regular inter-city highway transportation in a period of severe energy crisis. With the three-wheel configuration and single seat driving position, it is possible to not only reduce weight to improve economy but also to build in some of the precision and sporting flair often associated with motor cycles."
Of course, beyond its dramatic canopy (complete with sunroof!) and 3-wheel design, the Cockpit is notable for its quoted fuel economy of as little as 3.1 L/100 km (75 mpg). Surely, that's reason enough to put up with just 12 horsepower!
Inside, a driver-focused interior had enough room in the back for shopping or a second passenger, who would need to place her legs on either side of the driver's seat, inside the roll bar. For just two people, the car is capable of returning MPG that would put a smart fortwo or Toyota Prius to shame.
For someone like me, who is often in his car alone, downsizing into a three-wheeler would be a possibility for my next car—if only there were models like the Cockpit on the market! (Yes, I'm eagerly waiting to see what will become of Elio Motors. For what it's worth, I was saddened by the recent failure of Aptera, who was planning a similar design.)
With automakers once aggressively pursuing solutions to fuel economy, traffic, and other forward-thinking problems, I'm disappointed that modern concept cars are often thinly disguised versions of their eventual production versions.
While I can't say for certain if modern, 3-wheeled vehicles like the Cockpit and its peers are still a glimpse at a more frugal future for commuters, that the world's automakers keep flirting with the idea makes me hopeful for the day I see something similar to the Ford Cockpit whizz by on the highway.
In any case, the concept was sold in 2002 as part of a big liquidation of Ford concept cars, for $35,000 Usd.