Toyota AXV-IV

I hope that what you're noticing as the days tick by is that there are many different ways to reach the same results.

Supercars, compacts, race cars, hybrids…throw together a mix of ingredients and, many times, what an automaker ends up with is typically pretty similar to its competition.

One area, though, that seems to have a huge variety of machines but pretty much the same results are lightweight commuter cars. Lightweight commuter cars? You know, the vehicles automakers show off at auto shows and very rarely ever build.

Volkswagen's XL1, for instance, is a rare example of one of these machines being put into production. A run of about 250 cars, and at more than $120,000 per car means that you're not going to see them around every day. 

But it is an ultra efficient and lightweight commuter car, exactly the type of vehicle that many of us in the world would be happy to bomb around in considering that the average number of people per car during a trip typically hovers around 1.2 to 1.4.

It's simply inefficient to haul around excess seats, doors, glass—you name it—if there's usually only one person in the car during a commute. If there's only one person in the car, you can shrink the overall dimensions, prioritize energy efficiency, and sell something that'll fit the needs of a large number of people.

The automakers know this, of course, but they look at the sales figures for the unattainable, exotic, limited-run XL1 and they look at the sales figures for the everyman first generation (with an aluminum chassis and bodywork!) Honda Insight.

You know what? People don't seem to like swoopy commuter cars, even though the Insight used just 3.9 L/100km (73 US mpg) on the highway. Worldwide, Honda sold only 17,020 first generation Insight hybrids, even though they'd hoped to sell 6,500 per year over six years of production.

Maybe the solution made a blip on the show circuit in 1991: the solution to the problem of selling an efficient commuter car to the masses.

First, the Toyota AX-IV looks fantastic, with its jet fighter-like glass—complete with Subaru SVX-style side windows!—and its compact, swoopy shape. Second, it's not a hybrid—this little puppy packs a supercharged 804cc two stroke(!), two cylinder engine with 64 horsepower—about what you got in the Insight, actually.

Third, it weighs just 450 kg (992 lbs)—192 kg (432 lbs) less than the minimum weight permitted for a Formula 1 car.

Finally: it's rear drive.

You'd take it for a spin. I know it. 

How did Toyota manage to assemble it with those specs? With the use of aluminum, magnesium, and Fibreglass Reinforced Plastic (FRP). They used FRP for the suspension springs.

Finally, a Chicago Tribune article from 1991 says that the AXV-IV returned "well over 60 miles per gallon (3.9 L/100km)-thanks in part to the vehicle's construction."

Article from 1991? This was shown little more than two years after Mazda unveiled the first Miata. I'd say the AXV-IV would have been a wonderful alternative to the Miata—and the perfect sort of used car for me, 23 years after its hypothetical debut. 

I'd say it would have been a wonderful alternative to the Miata—but people don't excited about small commuter cars, remember? *


* OK, this isn't entirely true. We'll revisit this for #bcotd 151.