Beneath the auto world’s upper crust, where big names like GM, Ford, Honda, and Toyota rule from on high, there is a world teeming with innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. A world in which out-of-the-box ideas can be experimented on, carefully crafted, and finally packaged into a finished product. A small but vibrant segment of the overall automotive industry that caters to those with special tastes.
It’s the world of small auto manufacturers, and it’s as alive as ever.
From China to the United States, and across the Atlantic to Europe, the world’s small automakers are churning out new and exciting vehicles year after year, oftentimes with incredible performance potential that simply isn’t available on a mass-scale. Of course, they more often than not also come with incredible price tags. But the focus isn’t simply on speed and power, some entrepreneurs are focusing on ending congestion on our cities with tiny, efficient vehicles as well. The fact is, no matter what your tastes are as a consumer, there is likely someone, somewhere out there working to build a vehicle that fits your specifications.
Though there are likely hundreds of small car companies across the world, there are definitely a handful that stand out. We’ve assembled a list of 10 that are definitely worth keeping an eye on, as their products are either incredibly impressive, or may end up having a ripple effect across the entire industry.
Read on to check out 10 of the world’s most unique and exciting small automakers.
Many fans of sports cars and supercars may be familiar with Koenigsegg, as the company has been able to produce one of the world’s fastest cars of all time. The Agera R. Koenigsegg is based in Sweden, and focuses its engineering and design talents on building vehicles that are made for speed — in the same spirit of Ferrari, or Lamborghini, but even more so. For perspective, the Agera R can produce 1,140 horsepower and hit 60 miles per hour from rest in 2.8 seconds — essentially, Koenigsegg is building rocket ships on wheels. It’ll be interesting to watch the company as it goes on into the future, as they likely have some incredible accomplishments ahead of them.
2. Caterham Cars
For car buffs who are thirsting for an old-school roadster, the U.K.’s Caterham Cars is putting together cars that will likely scratch that itch. Caterham specializes in building two-seater, roofless cars, as seen above, and the company’s history is actually quite extensive, dating back to the 1950s. Though they’re definitely a niche automaker, Caterham vehicles can be found at a number of specialty dealerships scattered across the country. The prices aren’t too bad either, as the company’s Seven 280 model starts at a relatively low price of around $34,000.
3. Local Motors
Local Motors has been blowing up in the news lately. The company is pioneering a new method of manufacturing, by working in small microfactories, and building vehicles one-by-one. They have also been getting a good amount of press, with their flagship vehicle, the Rally Fighter (seen above), making it into the newest Transformers movie. Local Motors was also featured on NBC’s Today Show, showing off the world’s first 3D-printed car. There are undoubtedly big things in Local Motors’ future, and watching it all unfold should be a treat.
4. Commuter Cars
They may look funny, but these vehicles could go a long way toward cleaning up the environment and easing congestion. They’re built by a company called Commuter Cars, and the model is called the Tango. Based in Spokane, Wash., Commuter Cars builds extremely small, compact, and surprisingly nimble little vehicles. The Tango is all-electric, and has a range of 120 miles at 60 miles per hour. The most surprising thing? The Tango can hit 60 miles per hour in 3.2 seconds. Will the Tango take off with consumers? We’ll have to wait and see.
5. Mastretta Cars
Mastretta Cars is little-known but gaining notoriety. The company is a division of a Mexican engineering and design firm, and so far has one product on the market: The Mastretta MXT, seen above. A small sports car built for performance, the MXT is born and bred for life on the race track. Built using lightweight materials, and equipped with a turbocharged 2.0-liter, 250 horsepower engine, the MXT can run from 0-60 in under five seconds, and tops out at more than 161 miles per hour. What’s next for Mastretta? Improvements to vehicle availability, and then, hopefully some more models.
6. Ariel Motor Company
The Brits are really making huge strides in the auto industry, and a lot of those strides are happening at the niche level. As we’ve seen with Caterham and others, small, quick, race-inspired roadsters are popular, and Ariel Motor Company is just another example. The Atom, pictured above, is Ariel’s bread and butter, although the company also produces a motorcycle called the Ace. A local police department even adopted the Atom into its fold, so beware speeding through Ariel with the Avon and Somerset Constabulary nearby.
7. Renovo Motors
Renovo Motors has built what is quite possibly the most impressive electric vehicle to date. The company’s Renovo Coupe can produce more than 500 horsepower, 1,000 pound-feet of torque, and rocket to 60 miles per hour in just 3.4 seconds. It also hits a top speed of more than 120 miles per hour; impressive, by EV standards. Did we mention it’s an all-electric car? The Coupe is the Silicon Valley-based company’s first vehicle, with deliveries set to start early next year. If this is just the beginning, imagine where Renovo will be with some more time and capital.
8. David Brown Automotive
David Brown Automotive is the brainchild of, you guessed it, British businessman David Brown. An auto buff, Brown founded his own car company in 2013, and earlier this year, announced its first vehicle, the GT Fastback. Built off of a Jaguar XK platform, the GT Fastback seems destined for greatness. Some may even call it a modern foreign muscle car, as it’s a two-door car, equipped with a 5.0-liter V8 engine that can make more than 500 horsepower, and jet to 60 miles per hour from zero in around four-and-a-half seconds. What’s next for David Brown Automotive? We’ll have to wait to find out.
Spyker has been going through a bit of a rough patch, having to declare bankruptcy, but there’s plenty of reason to keep a watchful eye on the company. The Dutch-based manufacturer, which produces beautiful sports cars, was originally founded in 2000 in its most recent form (the name has previously adorned coaches going back to the late 1800s), but has had to fight to stay alive for much of its existence. Its cars are nonetheless very impressive, with models like the C8 Aileron able to hit speeds of 187 miles per hour and make up to 400 horsepower. Hopefully the company pulls through, but the situation is definitely worth your attention.
10. Elio Motors
The self-proclaimed “next big thing in transportation,” Elio Motors is truly throwing consumers a curveball with its futuristic vehicles. The company has received plenty of attention from the press, thanks to its $6,800, massively efficient vehicle, the Elio. The Elio can achieve 84 miles per gallon on the highway, or 49 miles per gallon in the city, and aims to tackle congestion and efficiency issues, much like Commuter Cars’ Tango. Again, whether or not consumers buy in is what will determine the company’s success, but it appears that there is a fair amount of buzz surrounding their accomplishments.