Is there a modern day "Peoples' Car"?

I am curious about opinions on if there is a modern day equivalent of the VW bug. I am talking about something affordable to own, affordable to maintain, economical on fuel, simple to repair/service, and reliable/durable over the long haul. I could see something like a Civic or Corolla fitting this category. I know Mitsubishi has come out with some newer small car that gets around 50 mpg without being a hybrid and I believe it is a 3 cylinder. Unfortunately most Mitsubishis aren’t known for being easy to service or reliable but maybe that is changing.

One I can suggest from the 1990’s is the Geo Metro. I happen to own a 1994 3 cylinder 5 speed for my “beater” and find the mileage incredible, plus it is such a simple little car to work on. Swapping a new engine into it took me a couple hours. Replacing a timing belt is something one can do on the side of the road. While these cars are cheaply made and had a tendency to rust, those in warm weather/dry climates tend to last a very long time with proper care. These are somewhat picky about oil type and viscosity and do not do well with neglect but are quite durable and reliable when properly cared for. The problem is lots of people viewed them as disposables and didn’t take care of them so finding them in good shape now is somewhat of a challenge.

I would put the Geo Metro in the category of the VW bug with the low cost, simplicity, and easy of repair. It is water cooled and has minimal electronics for a car of its time. The valves use hydraulic lash adjusters so you don’t need to adjust them all the time. Unfortunately like the bug, it is very lightly built and not a safe car in crashes.

I think the market and tastes of the general population have changed so that no one wants to drive a true stripped down peoples car anymore. As a previous owner of a 59 Bug though, I really didn’t find it all that cheap or easy to repair or economical. I was always paying $50 at the VW dealer for something or other. Front end, points, valve adjustment, welding rusted out bumper supports, etc. When the generator went out, the engine had to be pulled to get to it. I don’t know if it floated or not but it collapsed like an accordian when T boned.

The Geo Metro might be the last Peoples’ Car other than something like a Ford Festiva.

@Bing, maybe someone at the VW dealer did not really know how to service the car which led to your expenses.

Contact points hold up very well if the condenser is good and distributor cam lube used during point replacements.

The engine does not have to be removed to change a generator on an air-cooled Bug or Beetle so someone was going about that in the wrong manner if they did it that way.

I agree with @Bing that our definition, as well as Germany’s definition of a people’s car has changed. I spend a lot of time in developing countries and they still have some very basic vehicles there.

For our society and that of Europe and Japan, a basic car is now the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Nisan Versa/Micra, Mazda2, and Ford Fiesta. You can still get these cars without air, without automatic, without power door locks, cruise control, etc. The previous version of the Hyundai Accent stripped sold for just under $10,000! And they were reliable, economical, and durable; more so than the original Beetle or Mini. And all have good road manners, are comfortable and safe!

You see the Corolla and Civic fitting this list…you see what the answer used to … Fwd compacts were the people’s car here. Now, it is the full size pick up, which is found everywhere inspite of gas prices and the Accord, Fusion, Camry… Subcompacts cannot be the people’s car in the US now, because we are too fat as a society…it’s now the full size fwd sedan ! Obesity has help determine the cars we choose. We lead the world in obesity rates…we lead the world in the size of our cars we choose. . We can’t have the same world car as Europe !


The car seat has to fit our fat ass comfortably

The car must have plenty of cupholders . . . large enough to hold a super big gulp

It has to have power windows and locks, because we’re too lazy to use the window crank handle or push the lock knob down

It has to have remote central locking, because we’re too lazy to stick the key into the lock cylinder and turn it

Actually, in the late 1950s, a VW Beetle was pretty well equipped. It came with a heater (well, a so-called heater) that was optional on many cars. I think that the windshield washer that received its power from the spare tire was standard equipment. The VW had a passenger side sun visor. The 1959 Chevrolet Biscayne did not have a sun visor for the passenger. The real stripped car in those days was the Studebaker Scotsman. The fit and finish of the interior of the VW Beetle rivaled expensive cars of the time.
The car that could have taken the honors for today’s People’s car was the Dodge Neon. With more attention to detail, particularly in the interior, and some clever advertising, the Neon might have been the VW of today.

The car that could have taken the honors for today's People's car was the Dodge Neon. With more attention to detail, particularly in the interior, and some clever advertising, the Neon might have been the VW of today.

And maybe better reliability.

The go to new car for most people I know on a budget is the Honda Civic. Base model starts at under $20k. Very good reliable vehicle.

“Unfortunately most Mitsubishis aren’t known for being easy to service or reliable but maybe that is changing.”

Mitsubishi is likely to have left the US marketplace before anyone even finds out about the reliability or ease of repair of its recent models. Their sales figures in the US are so low at this point that many folks who are familiar with the industry are of the opinion that Mitsubishi of America has one foot in the grave and the other foot on a banana peel.

I think that anyone buying a new Mitsubishi at this point is either unaware of the company’s precarious position, or are they willing to take a lot of chances just to get a low price. Let’s face it–with the exception of the Lancer EVO, nobody buys a Mitsubishi because they really want one. Instead, they buy one because it is somewhat cheaper than the far superior competition.

Maybe the new Ford Fiesta could fit in that category. But all cars today are packed with gadgets, and a high level of safety equipment that makes them complicated.

Yeah, everyone I know has had a Dodge Neon, especially the earlier models, had terrible issues with them. One guy I knew when I was like 16 had one that must have blown a head gasket. It whistled like a bird when it ran. Something else finally gave way and it blew a rod through the block. He drove it home as he figured the engine was toast anyway and it blew two rods through the block by the time he made it back. It was running on two cylinders and all the oil was gone. This doesn’t fit my description of a reliable “peoples’ car”. I don’t typically like Chrysler products in general as they leave a lot to be desired in terms of reliability and ease of servicing.

As for the Ford Festiva, I know there is a following for those much like the Geo Metros. I understand the bodies are much better about not rusting away like Metro but are mechanically not nearly as reliable, simple and, easy to repair. There are still a lot more of these on the road because they simply don’t rust out nearly as fast. I have treated the underbody portions of my Metro with some pretty expensive rust treatment so I hope it works.

The early 90’s Geo Metro is a great car, and might have been a candidate for “people’s car” except that there just weren’t enough of them on the road to ever qualify. For some reason sales never took off, like they did with the old water cooled Beetle in the late 50’s and 60’s here in the USA. One time as a teenager I worked on a cattle ranch for the summer, and I thought I’d be riding a horse to go find where the cows were grazing that day, but the foreman said when I asked him about which horse I’d ride, “No horses for you, you will be driving the Beetle sitting over there by the fence”. The ranch owner had been caught up the Beetle bug (no pun intended) and had purchased one for the ranch. It worked great as the rear engine provided a lot of traction for the dirt roads, some of which were pretty steep I had to drive around on looking for the cows.

Anyway, a “people’s car” has to have a lot of people that drive it, by def’n. So today’s “people’s car” candidates would have to be cars that have been close to the top in national sales volume for years, on the inexpensive side of the price spectrum, which would be the Corolla and the Civic. That’s my opinion anyway.

Edit: If they’d make that 50 mpg Metro again though, as a new car, I’d definitively consider buying one.

I suspect the Geo Metro never took off for one main reason


Nobody here wanted a car of that size at that moment in time

Let me clarify my statement

I believe the guys who purchased a brand new Metro in the early 90s did so because they literally couldn’t afford anything else

That is probably why many of them weren’t taken care of

Same thing with the Aveo. Does anybody believe people bought them because they love it?

Back in the late 80s Daihatsu was trying to provide a cheap peoples’ car while trying to create inroads into the U.S. market.
The Charade was the entry level econobox and what a name badge to apply… :wink:

Remember the Ford Aspire?

What did it aspire to be?

I personally really like my Metro. Although I have two pickup trucks that drive like Cadillacs compared to my Metro, it isn’t a bad car to drive as long as you don’t want all the comforts of a modern car. I put European spec synthetic oil in mine that meets the requirements of Mercedes, BMW, Audi, and the like so this one is being taken care of. Those who work on these engines say the Euro spec oils work wonders in these engines. Where else do you find a car that is this cheap, so simple to repair, and gets 50+ mpg? I am sure going to keep it on the road as long as possible. The hybrids are like working on the space shuttle and still don’t get this mileage. The Daewoo based economy cars were not nearly as reliable as the Suzuki Swift based Metro. The Aveo seemed to have its share of problems. I know the Chevy Spark is also a Daewoo. How has it fared so far?

Tata Nano, $3200 for a mid-level car brand new. Cheap, simple and easy to fix in the middle of Punjab India with a pair of pliers and a screwdriver. The car will hold 4 adults (well, Indian adults anyway) and get great mileage.

It won’t pass the requirements for sale in North America nor Europe although they supposedly are working one it. Look for the adds: New Tata’s coming to America in 2015.

The Ford Aspire was pretty much the direct competition to the Geo Metro. I understand the mechanicals were not as good but the rust proofing was much better. I personally have a Metro and find it to be about the most simple car on the road, at least on something made since 1990.

Well it was the only VW dealer in Sioux Falls and I think one of two in the state but I think they were pretty good. Just always seemed like something needed to be done to it. Regardless the points never lasted longer than 2000 miles and that was with genuine VW parts and new condensers all the time. The generator was done at my home town and not at dealer. Just what they told me anyway but only cost $30. Looking at youtube now I see there are ways to do it by taking the carb off etc. but still a pain in the neck compared to GM that takes 5 minutes. Looks like all for want of a second shaft to drive the blower I guess.