Far From the mainstream: Chatenet

Since 1984 the French firm Chatenet have been selling a tiny number of tiny cars.

2016 Chatenet Sporteevo: source
2016 Chatenet Sporteevo: source

At the moment there are 35 of these cars for sale. What do we find if we

take a closer look? The cheapest Chatenet costs €1900 and has a 4kW diesel engine, automatic transmission and looks like this. It bears a passing resemblance to a Fiat Cinquecento, perhaps.

1999 Chatenet Stella: source
1999 Chatenet Media: source

This is the interior:

1999 Chatenet Stella interior: source
1999 Chatenet Stella interior: source

A 2005 Chatenet Media now takes on the Fiat Seicento, soft style. The dots-effect grille has been adopted recently on Mercedes CLS cars (but I may have that wrong as I have lost track of their name blizzard).

2005 Chatenet Media: source
2005 Chatenet Media: source

As with the 1999 car above, this one has around 21,000 km on the clock but costs €3500. The top speed of these cars is 45 kmph. They are intended only for local roads.

Around 2009 the style got a bit more aggressive. This is the Barooder which is nearly alright but the crease over the rear window is a real blemish. This one costs €4000 and has managed 50,000 km. It’s another 4kW diesel and like the first two is on sale in Italy.

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The seller presented most of these photos with parts of the car cropped, as if it was too large to get it all into one photo. The Barooder almost manages to be a credible bit of industrial design.

At this time the name and styling policy changed. The 2009 CH 26 resembles a strange compound of Mini and a bit of Maserati. The Mini-esque example here is €7900, still with the 4kW diesel.

2009 Chatenet CH26
2009 Chatenet CH26

The Japanese have Kei cars and we have these. What is needed is the input of a good industrial designer. I expect that Chatenet is a small firm where the caprices of senior managers who know little of ID and who also have limited market-research capabilities don’t understand that hiring designer with, say, 3 years studio experience from any major manufacturer would pay serious dividends in raising the standard of these cars.

The current range of these cars is made up variants of the CH26: a coupe (the title image, up above) a pick-up, an estate, a 15 kW car and one with a folding sun-roof.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

4 thoughts on “Far From the mainstream: Chatenet”

  1. What is the purpose of these cars?

    The prospect of being involved in a crash in one of these is terrifying, and I can’t imagine it’s much cheaper to run than any other small diesel car you could buy for 2-4,000 Euros. A Fiat 500 suddenly looks incredibly sophisticated, roomy and well-designed in comparison.

    1. The main point is that they can be driven without a driving licence, so they are mostly bought by people who have lost all the points on theirs, and not because they like those cars…

    2. I certainly take the word of a Frenchman on this, but it seems crazy for someone to get banned from driving, then being let loose in a microcar. One of these doing a U-Turn at the hands of its pisshead driver would be as much danger as anything. More, since it takes such a long time. On the other hand, maybe the authorities reckon that driving behind (or in front, or on top?) a 4 kW diesel is an additional punishment.

      Actually, I quite like the attempts to impose grown-up design onto these little things. Of course proportions and limited production facilities tend to compromise the result, but they could look worse (see the dreadful G Wiz). But the design input is usually far greater than the horrible devices deserve. Incidentally, Robert Opron did some microcar design for Ligier after he retired from Fiat.

    3. Most people loose points for minor speeding offences so yes, definitely a form of punishment.

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