The history of the most affordable car in North America

Some people will always tell you that your dollar used to go farther, and that’s somewhat true. There was a time when Coke was a nickel and gas was 50 cents per litre, but people made less money then and that’s simply the way of inflation.

When the 2015 Nissan Micra arrives in Canada, its $9,998 price earns it the title of the most affordable new car in Canada. But is it really cheaper than a Volkswagen Beetle was in 1955? Or a Model T Ford in 1914? The question is this: If corrected to 2014 values, what is the cheapest car of all-time to be sold in North America?

Ford Model T

Cost in 1914: $825

2014 adjusted cost: $17,063.75

The original Ford Model T cost $825 back in the 1900s.

The original Ford Model T cost $825 back in the 1900s.
Handout, Ford

The Ford Model T is often credited as being the car that put North America on wheels. Ford’s revolutionary assembly practices lowered costs to the level that ordinary working folks could afford. The Model T was designed to be affordable and rugged transportation and between 1908 and 1927, more than 15 million were made. But affordable as it was, it’s still not cheap enough to undercut the Micra’s price.

Volkswagen Beetle

Cost in 1964: $1,600

2014 adjusted cost: $12,181.60

The original Volkswagen Beetle.

The original Volkswagen Beetle.
Handout, Volkswagen

The lovable and venerable Volkswagen Beetle changed North American roads profoundly. Though under-powered and ill-suited for huge North American highways, the Beetle worked its way into the hearts of many and became a cultural icon in the process. Like the Model T, the Beetle was robust and affordable. But when adjusted to 2014 inflation, it’s still not as affordable as a Micra is today. Though it’s rather unlikely that the Micra will become a symbol of the counter-culture.

Honda Civic

Cost in 1973: $2,200

2014 adjusted cost: $11,974.56

The 1973 Honda Civic 1200 had only 50 horsepower.

The 1973 Honda Civic 1200 had only 50 horsepower.
Handout, Honda

The now ubiquitous Honda Civic was the front runner in a wave of cheap and efficient Japanese compacts. The Civic employed a smart layout with front drive and a transverse engine so maximize room for occupants. It may not seem like much now but you have to remember that this SOHC wonder was sold alongside the already antiquated VW Beetle. Despite being one of the most affordable cars of the time, its price is just not as affordable as the Micra when adjusted to current inflation.

Hyundai Pony

Cost in 1984: $5,795

2014 adjusted cost: $12,006.00

Hyundai Pony

While all of the cars on this list are inexpensive, the Pony was cheap. Though its price was low for the times, (still not as cheap as a Micra is today) to Pony never had any real staying power in the North American Market due to dismal build quality and its ability to dissolve in winter like a tab of Alka-Seltzer in water. I guess sometimes you get what you pay for.

Yugo GV

Cost in 1987: $3,995

2014 adjusted cost: $7,366.71

1985 Yugo GV

We found a car that’s actually less expensive than a Micra! The infamous Yugo is cheaper than the Micra by more than $2,600 in today’s money, but that’s likely the only area where the rattletrap Yugo is superior. The Yugo frequently tops “worst cars ever made” lists and is certainly extinct from modern roads. Given the Yugo’s indifferent build quality, it’s no wonder that eastern-bloc cars are long gone from our shores.

Hyundai Excel

Cost in 1989: $5,499

2014 adjusted cost: $9,322.76

ad hyundai excel hatchback red 1989 The history of the most affordable car in North America

This car also beats the Micra on price even if by only $675. The Excel was about as basic as automotive transport could get in 1989 and it made Geo Metros look like Mercedes. Though its price made headlines, the Hyundai lacked staying power and the majority of them have rusted away.

By observing our findings, we can conclude that the Micra is not the cheapest car ever sold, but you really wouldn’t want to drive the cheapest car ever anyways. Somethings do get better with time.

Note: All values are calculated using Bank of Canada’s inflation calculator. Special thanks to for discovering via this tool that the Micra was actually cheaper than a Hyundai Pony and passing this information along to us.

About Clayton Seams