I'm by no means an expert on the Chinese car market, but instead of copying cars that were produced, why not the ones that were rejected?
Every manufacturer has a rich back catalogue of missed opportunities, and you're no doubt familiar with many of them. If a company was to resurrect, say, the 1995 Opel Maxx city car, what would Opel and Bertone do? Would the companies say, "Please don't make the car we didn't"?
I've picked this car because of its downright sexy interior—it looks like something done by Dieter Rams. Maybe a bit busy here and there, but much nicer than most small car interiors and could be mistaken as the inspiration for the BMW i3's cabin…albeit 20 years removed.
But that's not all the Maxx got right.
Shown over two versions that evolved from a pure concept into a driving prototype, the Maxx was designed around visible silver extruded aluminum panels that both provided the frame and could be adapted for different sizes of vehicle. Hmm…I wonder where I've seen that before…
Continuing the similarities with the future Smart fortwo, it had both a three-cylinder engine with 50 horsepower and an automated manual transmission derived from motorbikes. Unlike the fortwo (but like the Toyota iQ), the Maxx had jump seats for carrying two more passengers.
I find it amazing that some cars look even more contemporary than they would have in period, and that Opel and Bertone worked out the fortwo's secret sauce within a year of Daimler's first "smart" concepts, the eco-sprinter and eco-speedster.
Apart from looks, the Maxx was closer in execution to the eventual fortwo than either of the official factory prototypes…and shown in working form three years before the fortwo hit the streets.
Maybe there was a behind-the-scenes marriage of ideas that fused the two city cars together, a plausible assumption if key designers or engineers jumped ship to work for Daimler. (And feel free to email me if this was the case!)
It's 2015, and the Maxx is still—at least in my books—a smokin' hot city car that makes the Toyota iQ look like a sad bath sponge. If there are any manufacturers out there—Chinese or otherwise—who desire a new city car, get out your tracing paper and don't forget to add some LEDs on the front.