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Enter the light brigade

With fuel prices again marching upwards, buyers are looking for the most fuel-efficient cars and car companies are turning to the baby brigade to meet the growing demand.

Toyota, Citroen, Peugeot, Fiat and Suzuki are all looking at options from their international model range with engines as small as 1.0-litre.

Toyota chairman emeritus John Conomos wants a smaller model than its current baby, the Yaris, and an SUV to sit under the RAV4.

The hot favourite for the smallest player in the Toyota garage is the Aygo, a 1.0-litre model available as a three or five-door hatch built in the Czech Republic as a joint venture with Citroen and Peugeot.

The three companies market almost identical versions of the car, Toyota badging it the Aygo, Citroen the C1 and Peugeot the 107.

Peugeot Australia is looking closely at the 107 but spokesman Mathew McCauley says plans are far from confirmed.

“We originally felt we had the area covered when the 206 and 207 were going to be sold side by side,” McCauley says. “Now that we can't get the 206 in right-hand-drive we have to look at a different strategy and the 107 is certainly part of that planning.”

While McCauley wouldn't speculate on when the 107 may be available in Australia, any decision to bring the car to these shores will be made quickly and it could be on sale before the end of the year.

Citroen is far more reticent about the chances of the C1 making it to Australia.

“The twin issues with considering the C1 for Australia are availability and price,” Citroen importer Ateco Automotive spokesman Edward Rowe says.

“We already have the C2, C3 and C3 Pluriel, which are all essentially in the same class but appeal to different types of buyers.”

Fiat, another Ateco brand, will definitely be offering its revival of the classic 500 Bambino, which will launch in Europe in July and be on sale in Australia next March.

“The Fiat 500 will be launched here with both a petrol and diesel option,” Rowe says.

While Rowe denies there are any firm plans for a hot Arbath performance derivative of the Fiat, European sources suggest it is a certainty with a 110kW 1.4-litre turbo powerplant upgrading the famous vehicle.

Also in the mix is the imminent arrival of a yet-to-be-named Chinese-manufactured model, which will attack the bottom end of the market in both size and price.

“That will be a definite area in which the Chinese models will have an influence,” Rowe says. Ateco is expected to lead the way in landing Chinese-manufactured cars in the Australian market by next year.

Toyota's dilemma is that its original small cars have either grown to outsize their original concept or disappeared entirely from the market as in the case of the Daihatsu Sirion.

Both the Yaris — nee Echo — and RAV4 have grown markedly since their original model launches. RAV4 started as a 2.0-litre three-door and soon its five-door body will get a 3.5-litre V6 engine.

Conomos says a small SUV that equated to the size of the original RAV4 was under development in Japan. “A 2.0-litre SUV would be ideal for us because that segment of the market is growing,” he says.

Conomos indicates a car smaller than the Yaris would be welcome, but says buyers in the light-car segment are extremely price sensitive. “It would be difficult for a Japanese car to compete on price in that segment,” he says.

“We also have to ensure that any Toyota car coming into Australia meets our quality, reliability, durability and equipment criteria.”

If the Aygo was introduced it would sell from about $12,000.

Suzuki, meanwhile is considering bringing its baby Splash to Australia. It has both 1.0-litre and 1.3-litre petrol engines and a 1.3-litre diesel.