The smallest Honda sold in the U.S. market is the 2011 Fit subcompact, its well-reviewed and enormously versatile five-door hatchback.

But other markets demand different types of cars, and today at the Thailand Motor Expo, the company unveiled the Honda Brio prototype, a lightly disguised version of a minicar it will put into production early next year for buyers in emerging markets.

Honda calls the Brio "an entry-level car" for growing Asian countries like Thailand and India, where it will compete (at least on paper) with some of the world's least expensive cars, including the egg-shaped Tata Nano, launched last year as the $2,500 car (it's now closer to $3,000).

The company notes that production Brios will be modified for the diffeent customer needs in each market. It plans to "leverage the resources" it has cultivated selling motorcycles and mopeds in those countries.

Honda Brio prototype, introduced at the 2010 Thailand Motor Expo

Honda Brio prototype, introduced at the 2010 Thailand Motor Expo

The Brio prototype is 142 inches long, 66 inches wide, and 58 inches high, meaning that it's about the same width and height as a 2011 Mini Cooper, but roughly 3 inches shorter. That's fully 20 inches shorter than the 2011 Honda Fit, by the way.

Honda says the Brio is "compact" but offers "highly efficient packaging," which can be seen in the simple dashboard and thin seatbacks. We note the Brio prototype does include cupholders, however.

Styling is far from the slab-sided minicars of the past, and Honda calls it an "advanced exterior form [that is] compact while asserting a strong presence." The lines of the Brio prototype rather remind us of the 2011 Mazda2 subcompact, including a green color virtually the same as the Mazda2 models unveiled at last year's Los Angeles Auto Show.

Honda Brio prototype, introduced at the 2010 Thailand Motor Expo

Honda Brio prototype, introduced at the 2010 Thailand Motor Expo

Honda did not release engine specifications, but says the Thai model has a target fuel economy of 47 miles per gallon or better (5 liters/100 km) to qualify under the government's "eco-car" designation. Target price is about $13,000 (400,000 baht).

The Brio will be launched in Thailand next March. A model for India will have more local content, to achieve "a good balance between vehicle performance and price," says Honda.

Will we see the Honda Brio in North America? Almost surely not, at least in the near term. Like many models aimed at low-cost emerging markets, the Brio is likely to dispense with multiple airbags, electric accessories, automatic transmission, and other features required to sell a car in the U.S.

As Mazda and Ford both learned with their 2011 Mazda2 and 2011 Fiesta subcompacts, re-engineering a subcompact to meet U.S. safety standards is complex, expensive, and time-consuming. For the moment, the 2011 Honda Fit is likely to remain the smallest Honda sold in the States.

[Honda Motor]