Recently, as to the attention given by TTAC to the spy shots of what might be or not a future Ford Ka sedan in southern Michigan, commenter Kenmore asked, “Has any other sad little runt of an econocar ever received so much attention on TTAC?”. Since you asked, I’ll offer up a brief pictorial explanation. Renault unveiled its new Logan this week. The Logan, which reintroduced this kind of car to parts of the developed world, has really shaken things up in the developing one, where the compact or subcompact sedan has never really gone away. In reality the small sedan segment is split into two groups: The more basic and simple one and the so-called premium sub-segment. To confuse the issue even further, size is a determinant, but not the only one in consideration when classifying such cars. Other criteria are date of launch or perceived modernity of the project, design and finishing, and in the Brazilian market, product placement by the maker in a market still pliable to this kind of machination. Let’s start off with the smaller, or better said, cheaper side of the sub-segment. In this one, you’ll find cars starting off at around 25 thousand reais (USD$12,500) and topping off at about R$33,000 (USD$16,500). They tend to be smaller and older and share front fascia and interior with their hatch brethren. Prime examples are the Chevy Classic (below) and Fiat Siena (above). The (older) Classic is an offshoot of the 90s second generation Corsa, while the Siena is nothing more than a Palio with a big ole butt. For a while there, they were the sole survivors in this segment and carried the torch forward. Typically, they have a short wheelbase of less than 2.4 m though the Siena will hold more luggage than a Civic or Focus sedan. This would be the natural place of residence of a future Ford Ka sedan due to size. The Logan, when it arrived 7 years ago, really shook up the segment. Having a wheelbase of almost 2.6 m, wider and taller than the aforementioned cars, it straddled the market from R$29,000 (USD$14,500) to upwards of R$40,000. It rocked the market not only for its size, but also for its relative modernity. Sitting on the BO variation of the Renault’s B platform that underpins everything from a modern Clio to a Nissan Livina (and many in between), it offered buyers a thoroughly competent ride, simple but sturdy finishing and low maintenance costs. As to those who might say the Logan is based on an old platform, all you have to do is compare where the wheels go on it. It is the same placement as in a Focus or Civic. Now look where the wheels go on a Siena. The older cars were really nothing more than a hatch with a trunk added on and driving dynamics suffered. The Logan was such a big hit that others scrambled to get into the game. Ford offered up the (old) Fiesta sedan, VW, after an 11 year hiatus, revived the Voyage name by putting a trunk into the Gol. Size-wise these cars were closer to the original Siena and Classic. The first to offer some competition on the Logan’s terms was the Chevy Cobalt. No relation to the American one, it sits on a Sonic’s platform, has a love it or hate it design, a nicer interior than the Logan. The Cobalt consolidated and proved there was a higher end to this market, in which a hypthetical Ford Escort would compete. The Asians took note and wanted in and Hyundai was able to cook up the HB20 sedan while Toyota half-baked the Etios, not to mention Nissan and its Versa. Much like Ford’s new Fiesta, these cars are entirely up-to-date, split the difference between the smaller cars’ 2.4 m wheelbase and the Cobalt’s and Logan’s 2.6 m and offer modern amenities not seen in the segment even a couple of year ago. In their case the sales pitch is different. Ford and Hyundai are banking on the design while Toyota tries to focus on the brand by mentioning the Corolla in every piece of Etios advertising. Results have been mixed showing that in this higher end of the sub-segment design is all important. While a hot seller at launch, sales of the Hyundai have slowed as the novelty factor wears off, while the Fiesta’s are taking off due to that same factor. Toyota meanwhile languishes and the car has just received an interior redesign after less than 2 years on the market. You can’t turn on your TV or computer without seeing the sad little Toyota’s face. Not only those strive for consumers’ checkbook though. Tired of seeing sales slip away to the bigger cars, Fiat was able to hodgepodge together its Grand Siena. Not quite Logan size, it offers a smart interior and more size than the old Siena, not to mention bigger engines. GM decided there was place in it line-up for a 3rd small sedan and developed yet another variation on the Sonic platform, the Prisma using the Onix hatch as a base, which is aimed squarely at the Asian completion. A very important segment indeed. One in which the makers have pushed up to previously unimaginable heights the price of lowly hatches. They sell, sell well indeed. With that long wheelbase, they offer room for families with teens. With the big trunk they offer space for families with babies. Being sedans and not quite the same looking as the hatches, they offer the buyers the illusion they’ve stepped up in the car market. Riding on modern platforms and offering bigger engines, they truly compete with the likes of Civic, Fluence and others for more rational buyers. They have found a sweet spot in the market where consumers are happy to pay more, and makers are happy to provide. They’ll be around for a long time.
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