By on July 21, 2017

1995 Plymouth Neon, Image: Wikimedia Commons

If you’re a believer in the idea of authentically American small cars, then you’ve had a rough couple of years. The last compact or subcompact to be engineered ground-up by an American corporation was probably the ’95 Dodge/Plymouth Neon, although some kind of argument might be possible for the Chevrolet Cobalt. In 2017, the Big Three have been reduced to selling locally assembled versions of a German car, a Korean car, and an Italian car. We’re basically where Brazil was in 1990.

Things are going to get worse. GM might discontinue some small cars altogether. Ford is going to build the Focus in China. FCA probably has no plans to bring a Dart successor here. This is the end, beautiful friend. Do you care?

For the record, even if you don’t care, I certainly do. The future of the automobile might be high, mighty, and blob-shaped in the short run, but eventually things have to slimmer down, so to speak. You might argue that we’ll go electric before that happens, but that doesn’t mean the skills required to design and package a small car won’t be of use.

One way to make America great again would be to Manhattan Project a spellbinding small car and sell it globally at a price designed to embarrass the international competition. It’s not going to happen, but a man can dream.

What about you? Do you dream of a top-notch American car? Or should we shut down the factories for everything smaller than the Escalade EXT?

[Image: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

136 Comments on “QOTD: Do We Deserve an American Small Car?...”


  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Jack,
    I see a few problems with your idea.

    1. The ability to build a quality vehicle that is affordable.

    2. Cost of labour.

    3. Building a small car that will appeal to the greater US public, so you will need an export market. Go back to point one.

    • 0 avatar
      Freddie

      Globalization means specialization. Not every country has to build everything. When Honda decided to get into the airplane business, it set up shop in North Carolina. Why? Because America knows airplanes.
      And, if you are looking for small car expertise, you go to one of the countries where decades of ultra high fuel taxes made good small cars a necessity.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        “When Honda decided to get into the airplane business, it set up shop in North Carolina. Why? Because America know airplanes.”
        —- Not necessarily as true as it used to be. Embraer out of Brazil is producing some remarkably effective aircraft today, including, now, one that could compete favorably with the venerable C-130 itself.

        “And, if you at looking for small car expertise, you go to one of the countries where decades of ultra high fuel taxes made good small cars a necessity.”
        —- And again, Brazil seems a potential choice, as they are a primary manufacturer of good, small, cars today.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          The C130 entered production fifty years after the first flight at Kitty Hawk. It only took Brazil 63 years to catch up with a 1954 American plane?

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            Apparently you are somebody who doesn’t know that the Lockheed Hercules is STILL in production and massively upgraded from that 1954 version.

            I said it would compete favorably, I did not say with the 60-year-old version. In fact, there is only one factor of the Herc where the older design has the advantage… the short-field takeoff and landing where only a straight wing can offer the needed lift at a low enough airspeed. In every other way, the new Embraer is a superior aircraft in load capacity, speed and efficiency.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    Considering the next size up gets mileage near the smaller and has much more room and a better ride, why get the smaller car?

    I can see it for a single guy or a commuter for a multi-car family, but they aren’t great for road trips for a family of four.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      Flipper35,
      A smaller vehicle will be okay for the baby boomers as they age.

      I read an good article the other day regarding baby boomers. They are starting to walk away from, motorbikes, pickups, sports cars as they age.

      There are very few of us baby boomers left born in the 60s.

      After reading the article about GM dropping 6 vehicles it reminds me of the early 80s in Australia. Big cars were the rage, so smaller cars gradually dropped off the production lines as Australia was not competitive in manufacturing them. We protected large vehicle production, like the US.

      To our credit Australia gradually wound back protection and subsidies from the vehicle manufacturers. This has save a small country like Australia billions of dollars, imagine the savings for tax payers in the US.

      The US is at phase one with it’s reliance on large vehicle production.

      As I pointed out the US wants large vehicles (as most people in any country want). The problem is to manufacture large vehicles of good quality. The US (Big 3) is getting away with quite ordinary large vehicle quality as there is no competition, just as the regulations, controls and chicken tax intended.

      Once the US has mainly/only large vehicle production is will be exposed. Like it was when the Energy Crisis hit, but this time round it will be worse.

      Tesla will not save the US auto industry’s ass.

      • 0 avatar
        Coopdeville

        @Big Al

        “A smaller vehicle will be okay for the baby boomers as they age.”

        My boomer parents still need and want a large car. They have a mid-sized sedan and mid-size SUV and I consider the mid-size sedan way too small for their needs. They certainly aren’t shrinking in their old age, last I checked Dad was still 6’2″ and shops at big and tall. That’s anecdotal but I can say that I know few elderly folks who want to downsize unless they can’t help it financially. It’s one thing to want to *drive* a smaller car, but with joints that bend less and painfully when they do, wrapping yourself up into a small car is not for the elderly.

        “There are very few of us baby boomers left born in the 60s.”

        I don’t get this one, just curious. Are things so tough in Oz that the average life expectancy is 55 years old? I know every bug, snake, and tree is out to kill you but I’m confused. For the record, here in the US, we have record numbers of people over the age of 70 living alive and well.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          Coopdeville,
          Yes, maybe your baby boomer parents do.

          But, if you have a look at what is driving many of the small CUV sales it’s baby boomers.

          Many boomers have only a couple of kids themselves. So, they might carry two young tots at a time.

          Also, it’s a pain in the ass to constantly change baby capsules and seats.

          So, I see and do a lot of I’m not using my car as the grandkiddy bus.

          If you have the grandkids for a few days, yes it’s worth moving and changing all the crap.

          So, yes a few boomers might want a larger vehicle. But the majority are getting to an age where they can get away with a Focus or Corolla or something along those lines.

          Boomers are starting to become real old and will not be doing more than driving themselves to the Seniors Club, Golf Club for lunch and around to see the kids and grandkids. Being a taxi will decline with Boomers.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          Coopdeville,
          Some, but as I describe fewer and fewer.

          They (we) are aging and we don’t want to be babysitters for what are teenagers now.

          More and more they just need mobility, more than versatility. They aren’t loading or towing or busing as much or need to as in their earlier life.

          They (not me as I’m the last of the boomers at 57) want to go to the Golf Club for lunch, the Seniors Centre or just visit their kids and grandkids, not bus them around, or their friends.

          I have rarely seen seniors toting each other around as well. Just the two of them.

          The Baby Boomers are aging.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        Imagine the savings of importing everything and building nothing! Just imagine it, because that’s the only place it’ll exist, in your head.

        Australia doesn’t have nearly the population of North America. Any comparison between the economic situations of the two is flawed. Maybe you can compare to the state of Texas instead.

        What works in Australia isn’t guaranteed to work in North America. In this case, it isn’t guaranteed to work in either in the long term.

        You point out over and over that our market is vastly different than any other in the world, then you ramble on and on about how we should do things like everyone else.

        That’s like saying “I know you can’t breath under water like you can above it without an oxygen tank, BUT you should! All you have to do is do it! It’ll work! Just go under water and breath in. If it works above water, it MUST work everywhere, including below water. But you’re too stupid to do it.”

        You argue and rant about things you imagine and make up. Its really amusing when you and your other persona go running off about something you don’t understand one bit. And you argue as though none of us are smart enough to get what you’re saying. The problem is the opposite: we get it, but we don’t accept it because we know better.

        Are all people in Australia this pig headed, arrogant and argumentative? I used to think very highly of Australia, but if you’re any indication of the general population’s smugness and the tendency to argue into the ground things you have too little knowledge of, I have been sorely mistaken.

      • 0 avatar
        carguy67

        “I read an good article the other day regarding baby boomers. They are starting to walk away from, motorbikes, pickups, sports cars as they age.”

        Generalizations are like casino house odds: 51% give-or-take. This 64 year-old Boomer drives two old British sports car–real ‘sports cars,’ not ‘sport sedans’–and when I can’t get out of one they can bury me in it (and my DD is a Mustang GT). My 68 year-old BFF is still riding his Hog.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          carguy,
          Read up on why Harley Davidson sales are tanking.

          Makes for good reading.

          As Boomers age trends will change.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            @carguy: I am one of those “baby boomers” and honestly I’m walking away from full-sized pickups simply because they are so large and clumsy. When you can have a vehicle with similar capabilities a full four feet shorter (and still offer five-passenger seating) with a covered cargo area that is more agile (tighter turning radius) and 1,000 pounds or more lighter, then why take on something so huge if you don’t NEED the massive overkill in power, haulage and towing capacities? A half-ton truck once meant you could carry 1,000# of cargo PLUS passengers. Now it means 2000# or more of cargo •including• passengers and assumes every passenger weighs 300 pounds. A towing ability of no less than 7500#? Why? Most pleasure and fishing boats are lucky if they push 3500#. Most travel trailers weigh in at 5000# unless you go for extra-long. You want to tow something heavier, go to a three-quarter ton and get that 8000# tow capacity or go for a one-ton and get 10,000# towing. Really, why would anyone want to haul a 30,000# load behind a “light duty” pickup which is where even the one-ton is classed; those heavy loads were meant for the medium-duty trucks that also happen to be somewhat exempt from the strict CAFE fuel economy rules that still apply to a one-ton pickup. The right tool for the job should be far more important than how much luxury you can throw into it.

            I want to go back to the 70s and 80s when it comes to light duty. Sure, the full-sized trucks were still large not quite as large… they were about the same size as the current mid-sized trucks, albeit about 10″ wider. But the mid-sized trucks of the day had lower rooflines (even as 4×4), shorter wheelbases and were truly meant for lighter loads–roughly classed as quarter-ton trucks plus passengers. Something lower, shorter and narrower, that effectively fit within a large sedan’s footprint, was ideal for many people and it is that smaller size that the “Baby Boomers” want, not the Road Whale™ of today.

            Bikes are dying in general here in the US, not just the Harley but almost every ‘cruiser’-styled bike. Why? Because almost everybody who revered that style is dead or no longer capable or willing to risk their lives on roads too heavily trafficked to truly enjoy cruising any more. Everybody today is just rush, Rush, RUSH and has forgotten what it’s like to just slow down and enjoy life any more. It’s become so bad that I just saw a scheduling calendar today for every single hour of a week-long visit to Disney World! What has happened to spontaneity?

            Even the commentary right here on TTAC has demonstrated that Bigger and Faster is what you want. Why? What’s the rush? Are you so eager to kill yourself off through stress and anxiety? Back off! Slow Down! Appreciate what you have and stop pushing yourselves towards that fatal brink.

          • 0 avatar
            joeaverage

            Vulpine – that’s why I imagine a truck like the newest iteration of the Ridgeline would do fine for most people.

            Sure, some will need real transfer case granny 4WD low or some will need major towing capacities that the Honda can’t supply but the rest of us…

            The Ridgeline can carry four or five people and (or) can tow 5K lbs.

      • 0 avatar
        Flipper35

        Most boomers here drive a minivan because they are easy to get in and out of for them and their friends. Some still drive a largeish sedan.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      How many people actually have a family of four? It’s either two, three, five or some larger number (I personally know a family with 9 kids, meaning a family of 11.) I call mind a family of three: me, my wife and my dog. My dog certainly doesn’t need a full-sized back seat so anything larger than a Fiat 500 is excess space to be used for other purposes than carrying people. Heck, for all of the complaints about the Chevy Vega, I actually LIKED that thing for what it was; a small car that was reasonably fun to drive and offered reasonable carrying capacity with the back seats folded and access through the “liftback” (once called a hatchback.)

      That Vega, even today, would more than meet my needs as a small CAR, though I want an open bed while keeping the “half seats” of a 2+2 styled car.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        The world sure could use the Chevy Vega. Such a wonderful car. People just need to stop buying what *THEY* want, and buy what *I* want. Everyone is wrong, but me.

        /sarcasm

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          johnii,
          So, everyone will drive a Frod?

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          Actually, John, your sarcasm hit the nail on the head. The only reason most of these models are going away is that the dealerships aren’t ordering them. The dealerships would much rather pack their lots with boring sameness that they can overcharge massively on rather than offering any real variety in their lineups. This has been going on for over 30 years as they’ve chosen to only order vehicles they can move quickly and strongly resist any effort to custom-order a vehicle. I’ve had dealers attempt this on me more than once and with the exception of my most recent purchase I’ve been forced to custom order because they didn’t have what I wanted on the lot. This most recent was selected by my wife because she LIKED the boring color (though now hates the bronze highlights because it’s a “special edition.”) Even so, it took her less than half a year to decide she needed to personalize it with a custom striping job.

          You wonder why I gripe about so many cars? It’s because all the GOOD cars have faded away due to lack of exposure. Try putting an Impala coupe into the showroom. Try putting a Fiat Strada or a Chevy Tornado into the showroom. Heck, put a non-MPG Dart into the showroom instead of hiding out out in the back of the lot!
          But give them some COLOR so people can actually pick them out of the monochromatic background!

          • 0 avatar
            joeaverage

            Vulpine: That’s why I don’t do my car shopping in showrooms. I confirm my choices in the showroom. ;)

            Honestly can’t stand dealing with salesmen. They have, in my experience, not been well informed and they have the dealer’s interests ahead of my own.

            I’m not going to let the sales people steer me to a car they think I might like.

            Its up to me. Enter the car mags and websites.

            I chose my current car recently purchased while on a trip out of town. It was not a vehicle I had spent any time around but I knew I wanted a certain list of features, knew I trusted a limited number of brands, and it all came together when I saw something I had not paid any attention to on the interstate.

            I then went home, studied up on it, and decided that yes, it fit the needs of our family.

  • avatar
    hamish42

    My daughter recently bought a Honda Fit. Also on her list were the Nissan Micra (we’re Canadian), the Toyota Yaris, and the Kia Accent. There were others such as the Hyundai Elantra which she didn’t look into. Seems to me the off-shore companies are filling what need there may be for these types of cars. Why develop something for a small niche which is already filled with reasonably nice cars (based on price)?

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    Good point Flipper35. The new Camry hybrid gets nearly 50 MPG. What’s the point of anything smaller?
    .
    .

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    My answer is, YES. A lot of people need affordable transportation, and that means a car priced less than $16k at base level and less than $20k at reasonable comfort levels. People today are buying more used cars and inheriting other people’s problems because they can’t afford a new car. The Neon and even the Dart met this need but industry “reviewers” belittled the cars so severely that they literally scared potential customers away… often to a far less capable used car for the price.

    But here’s the thing: with a smaller car you can’t say, ‘load it up with every option’ because that’s going to destroy the very concept of the small car; convenient, affordable and reliable. Sure, some are going to want every option but honestly those heavily-optioned models are becoming ever greater targets because they’re becoming so easy to bypass security.

    I liked my Fiat 500. I have no complaints with most small cars. I do believe some may be getting too small, but you can’t get much smaller than a Fiat and that thing gets remarkable performance despite its tiny engine specifically because it’s so small. But what I really want to see is a truly small TRUCK; one whose wheelbase is no longer than my 20-year-old Ranger while offering part-time seating for four and enough bed to be useful. Four full doors? No. 2 doors and two half-doors? Yes. And it wouldn’t need to be much bigger than the Neon in the photo.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Was your 500 designed in the United States? That was the question. Not do we need small cars at all. Why do you think he used the Neon as an example? Was it the last small car EVER, or the last small car that was pretty much American born?

      Geeze, it never fails.

      QOTD: a or b?

      AOTD: C! Duh!

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        The Neon was a piece of unreliable junk.

        I had one for a while as a courtesy car from Chryler when my XJ Jeep spent time in the workshop (6 out of 15 months).

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          Not so unreliable from what I heard. The people I knew who actually owned them really enjoyed them. The fact that they were inexpensive to own and maintain (when properly cared for) made them very popular where I live. I still see a few on the roads when even the newest is how old? Twelve years! Yet, the Neon is still being built for overseas markets as the Tipo or Ægea… with possible US sales in ’18 or ’19.

          • 0 avatar
            joeaverage

            The Neon owners that I knew that took care of their cars were enthusiastic about them.

            There were plenty of cheap and neglectful owners that got what they were due. Of course it would be a problematic car with a falling appearance if it wasn’t treated well.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        No, the 500 itself wasn’t, but the Renegade was and is built in Italy. The Renegade is a compact SUV. The Dart was a compact car that suffered from ONE thing… over-zealous negative reviews on one single model.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Don’t worry the Ecosport, Trax, et. al. will more than make up for it. Heck if Toyota’s sales of the CH-R take off the Corolla could be threatened.

    What is selling right now? Is it sedans?

    I think not.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Jack, I can’t even imagine what an “authentically” American small car might mean. Is a Fit an authentic Japanese car? For that matter, is a Golf an authentic German car? If the Neon is predictive, I’m not an optimist.

  • avatar
    Silent Ricochet

    YES. I absolutely do care. I’ve driven small cars all my life (two cavaliers and now a Focus) and I absolutely love them. They work great for probably 90% of the tasks that I require of my vehicle. I’m 25 and don’t have a family or anything wild like that yet. I want something that I can see out of, is fun to drive, and doesn’t feel like a boat. Do they carry 4-5 grown adults? Usually. Can it fit a cooler in the trunk? Yes. Above 30 MPG? Check. I’ll take a Compact car all day long over another boring beige pillow.

    Do I think that we deserve another Small American car? I wish, but the answer is NO. No one wants to buy compact cars anymore. There’s some kind of status that people think they achieve when they buy a Rav4 or whatever. They also think it’s safer. It’s so ingrained into people’s minds that “AWD = I won’t die when it’s raining” or that sitting a few inches higher will “let them see better” meanwhile their faces are buried in their phones. Is it bad that I sometimes wish gas prices were higher so people (commuters especially) would start buying sensible cars again?

    • 0 avatar
      I_like_stuff

      What is with the hatred of AWD here? I find it so comical. And bizarre.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Because it is more expensive to manufacture, more expensive to maintain, increases fuel costs and in that vast majority of cases is totally unnecessary. It is a cynical marketing exercise to convince bad drivers that they need it to be safe, rather than learning how to drive or investing in a dedicated set of winter tires, which have been scientifically proven to be more important/efficient than AWD in winter driving conditions.

        AWD for those living in mountainous conditions or those going offroad or those rallying is one thing. But for those commuting in urban settings or on highways, it is less useful than a built in Bluetooth system.

        • 0 avatar
          operagost

          AWD adds cost to a vehicle, but so do snow tires.

          You don’t just have to buy the tires, which will be $400-800. You have to buy another set of wheels, which will also be at least another $400-800, and either spend another two hours every year swapping them, or pay someone to do it. Or, you can just pay someone to break down the factory wheels and mount (and balance) the winter tires, which is cheaper than buying the wheels but costs far more in labor.

          I wish it were easier, because I agree that good tires are better than AWD (except with a pickup; I can’t do anything without 4WD unless I drive around with 500 pounds of cargo in the back all winter).

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            There’s also the TPMS to deal with if you get the dedicated set of wheels for the snow tires.

            The best answer is to just run snow tires all year :)

          • 0 avatar
            deanst

            Winter tires extend the life of your summer tires, so the net cost is essentially zero. The only real cost is the time and/or money spent to swap them every year.

          • 0 avatar
            ttacgreg

            The snow tires are far more important than if two or four wheels are driven. If it was a forced choice, here at 9000 feet in Colorado’s snow belt, I would absolutely take a front drive with snows over 4wheel drive on all season tires.

        • 0 avatar
          I_like_stuff

          The difference between AWD and non-AWD is about $2K. A decent set of winter tires is $800 minimum. Plus the $60 each fall and spring spring that tire shops charge to swap the tires. Those $800 tires will last 3 winters, if you’re lucky. So in 6 years you’ll spend $1600 for tires plus $800 for mounting. Plus the 20-30 hours spent at the tire store having to buy and then swap out tires. Plus you need a place in the garage to store 4 tires year round. And yes I know everyone here probably would do this themselves. But 95% of the driving public doesn’t know how to mount and balance a tire.

          Or….you spend $2K upfront and never have to worry about it again.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            @Ilikestuff: your math is way off. Winter tires double the life of your regular tires. So there is no additional tire cost.

            Swapping them is also not a cost because you no longer have to pay for tire rotations. They are rotated when they are swapped. And that means that there is also no extra time involved.

            So the only additional cost is for a set of steelies. And these generally will retain about 50% of their value when you change vehicles and sell them.

            And in many areas, you get a discount of up to 15% on your car insurance if you have a set of winter tires. So that offsets the cost of the steelies. In my case they paid for themselves in a couple of years.

            The only downside is storage. So buy a tire rack for $30 and you are done.

          • 0 avatar
            MBella

            You won’t have to worry about it until it’s time to stop. At that point the AWD on all seasons won’t seem so convenient.

            Since we’re on the topic, I’m going to introduce my fall dilemma to the B&B. With my current job, I have the privilege of driving company cars very regularly. I’ve put maybe 1500 miles on my Silverado since I bought it in March. It has 4WD. I’m a strong proponent of winter tires, and I normally wouldn’t even give it a toughy. My problem is that at the current rate, the All seasons will be dry rotted well before they are worn out. If I buy winter tires, that will just be two sets of tires thrown out because of dry rot. The company vehicles never have winter tires. Last year I had an SUV that had summer tires from January to March, and it made for some interesting days. If I get winter tires for the truck, I’m definitely driving it in the rougher weather.

          • 0 avatar
            VW4motion

            Resale value is also greater for awd vehicles. At least with Subaru. Buying a used Impreza or Forester is almost stupid due the high resale value.

          • 0 avatar
            ttacgreg

            Certain tire shops will make the swap for free. There is a well known chain that does just that for me along with the hazard warranty.

          • 0 avatar
            ttacgreg

            Certain tire shops will make the swap for free. There is a well known chain that does just that for me along with the hazard warranty.
            Straying off topic, aren’t we?

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          Right, we should take a stand against sunroofs, they add weight AND cost and can cause problems later.

          After we get AWD and sunroofs banned, we can move on to airconditioning. Added costs, added weight, added repairs in the future. You don’t NEED a/c, even in the deep South.

          Then we can move on to power windows and locks. They add cost, weight and future repairs. Nobody needs that stuff. If you can’t turn a window crank, you don’t need a license to drive!

          Soon, everyone will be driving a 1982 Civic because that’s all they really need. No unnecessary weight or complexity, no fancy AWD for the people willing to pay for it, no a/c for the people who “need” it, it’ll be great!

          You want to spend your money on an AWD vehicle? With A/C? A sunroof? Too bad, chump, you can’t because we don’t need the added costs.

          • 0 avatar
            deanst

            I’m glad manufacturers offer all these features to the gullible – otherwise they could not afford to sell me a base model at such a low price.

          • 0 avatar
            mason

            Jealousy is a terrible trait. Either you are too poor to afford basic amenities or are a skinflint, neither of which gives you the right to judge anyone for their purchasing decisions. For what it’s worth, I too own a base model vehicle. But I do not begrudge those that choose to pony up for the extras. It’s their choice. There’s much worse things to spend money on than a few options in a vehicle.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            Except for the AC, John, you described my ’97 Ranger quite well. And I had to install a manual compressor switch for the AC because it gets too darned cold in that tiny cab and runs the compressor full-time during the winter, even when NOT in defrost mode.

        • 0 avatar
          Jack Denver

          Snow tires are only “free” (putting aside the cost of swapping or a 2nd set of rims/TPMS) if you drive your car enough for the tires not to dry rot. Tires should be replaced every 6 to 10 years (max) depending on who you ask. If your tire usage is spread out among 2 sets, unless you drive a lot then the tires are going to age out before their tread is used up. On some of my vehicles, even with 1 set the tires have dry rotted before they were used up.

          Also people present AWD and snow tires as a false dichotomy. If you live in a snow climate, why not get AWD AND snow tires? That is unquestionably the best combination.

          In most cases, it’s true that you can get away with a FWD vehicle with just snow tires. However, if you favor RWD vehicles (and aren’t prepared to carry several hundred lbs. of sandbags over your rear axle all winter) RWD is a nightmare in the winter, even with snow tires.

          AWD is not just for snow. On wet roads, icy roads, sand covered roads, etc. they make the car much more controllable. This is especially true for less skilled drivers, of which there are many. With a good modern AWD/traction control system you don’t generally have to concern yourself much about oversteer, understeer, torque steer, where the apex is, not coming off the throttle, steering into the skid, blah, blah, etc. – you just point the car where you want and the car goes there. AWD can’t repeal the laws of physics but it is much less likely to punish dumb mistakes. If everyone was a highly skilled driver, this alone would be better than either snow tires or AWD or both – somewhere on the internet there’s a video of a very skilled biker driving a hard tail (no suspension) road bicycle with skinny slick tires on a mountain trail and he’s doing much better than you or I would do on a top of the line mountain bike. But most drivers aren’t skilled – that’s the reality.

          • 0 avatar
            zamoti

            I think part of the issue is that for most, AWD is just unnecessary. I grew up in rural Ohio with plenty of snow, and FWD $hitboxes to get around in on all-season Douglas garbage. I did manage to get by, but there were many browneye puckering moments along the way. AWD would have been quite welcome.
            Now I live in town and have for many years. I can think of maybe ONE time where my RWD snow-tire shod Volvo couldn’t get up a hill forcing me to turn tail and go home. But for the other 20+ years of living in town, I’ve gotten by on FWD and all seasons, or RWD and snow tires (though I didn’t even put the snows on this year).
            So it’s likely that the vast majority of the population that lives in or around a town that had plow/salt truck coming around in a reasonable amount of time, AWD is pointless. Hell, I have to search pretty hard to find an unplowed parking lot in which to enjoy some wintertime RWD shenanigans.
            If you live in a rural area, sure AWD might be the difference between getting stuck and getting home, but way back in the 90s, we still managed not to die. When one of my moron brothers ditched the car, we just walked to the nearest house, called mom and she called a tow truck.
            I normally don’t like to take a dogmatic position, but this time I will. AWD just means that we lower the bar on the expectations of driver skill and I don’t think that’s a good thing.

        • 0 avatar
          Dave M.

          I disagree. I love my AWD in the rain. And now will only buy AWD because of the planted feeling on both wet and dry pavement. It’s well worth the1 mpg penalty.

        • 0 avatar
          joeaverage

          So much of what you’ve written is just wrong.

          Our 1st gen CRV came with AWD standard b/c we bought the EX which we would have bought anyhow.

          Every 50K miles I had to use less than 2 qts of double pump fluid to change the oil in the rear end.

          It cost us 1 mpg over FWD.

          I never gave us any trouble over 300K miles, and we are still driving it.

          Fast forward 20 years and our current AWD MDX costs us 1-2 mpg.

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        I hate AWD because it gives idiots the false confidence to not pay attention to their driving.

        “Now that I have AWD to keep me safe, I can finally checkout Facebook while barreling down the highway at 80 mph in a blizzard!”

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          “Now that I have AWD to keep me safe, I can finally checkout Facebook while barreling down the highway at 80 mph in a blizzard!”

          They do that even without AWD… though they’re absolutely worse if they have the full, mechanical, 4×4. What’s really funny is that I see more 4x4s in the ditch than I do AWDs or 2WDs. I drove a Wrangler and I admit I had confidence… then again, I knew what it could do and I had stick shift, which means that I could slow down without riding the brakes and ensure all four wheels were turning at the same speed as I did so. That’s something you can’t quite do with most AWD automatics.

        • 0 avatar
          joeaverage

          Because there are a few idiots who have false confidence, the rest of us are idiots too for buying AWD? ;)

    • 0 avatar

      Amen!

      I’m 35 and have owned only compact cars my whole life as well: a Geo Metro, Ford Aspire, Hyundai Elantra, Chevy Aveo, Ford Escort, Ford Focus, Subaru Justy, Daihatsu Charade, Honda Fit, Suzuki Esteem, and Chevy Sonic. All of these cars have done what I needed them to do, and each had a bit quirkiness that isn’t found in a generic sedan. I do also own a first gen Explorer, to buck the trend, but that’s for a Jurassic Park recreation and more of a hobby.

      That being said, an evil part of me actually does want gas prices to rise to bring back the popularity of small cars. When prices spiked in the mid-2000’s and sales of large SUV’s tanked, it was quite humorous seeing the people who drove them (and used to make fun of my tiny cars) frantically trying to get out of their trucks while their resales had plummeted.

      • 0 avatar
        mason

        You and silent ricochets desire of automotive assimilation is just a touch callous. If everyone thought and acted the same the world would be a dull place. A world full of Metros and Esteems? Yuck.
        And I’ll let you in on a little secret. High gas prices will affect you too, and not just at the pump. Plastics, foods, clothing, etc. etc. EVERYTHING follows the price of crude and the costs are passed on to the consumer. Be careful what you wish for.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        “Geo Metro, Ford Aspire, Hyundai Elantra, Chevy Aveo, Ford Escort, Ford Focus, Subaru Justy, Daihatsu Charade, Honda Fit, Suzuki Esteem, and Chevy Sonic. ”

        None of those were designed principally in the U.S. and most weren’t even built here, either.

        That was Jack’s question. Do we need AMERICAN DESIGNED small cars. Not small cars in general.

        And more “when gas prices spike!” dribble. Go search for used Tahoes and F-Series and Silverado/Sierra from that era. You’ll find plenty. If nobody was still buying them, how are they here today?

        You can also look at sales charts. During the economic crisis, all vehicle sales were way off, but trucks remained best sellers.

        Sure, the Hummer brand went down, but it was riding a bubble of demand that was sure to bust sooner or later. They didn’t kill GMC, did they? But they did kill Saturn, Pontiac, Saab and Mercury, you know, brands that mostly sold cars along with a very limited number of C/SUVs, and 0 pickups. Saturn and Pontiac had small cheap models that got good mileage. Didn’t help.

        All of the anticipated demand for small cars from then on? Its ONLY been kept on life support, in most cases, by rental fleets. If it weren’t for rental companies buying Fiesta and Sonic sedans, they would’ve been gone before now.

        • 0 avatar
          deanst

          Yeah good thing they kept GMC – thing off all the people they employ badge engineering the Silverado vs. Sierra, while still selling less in total than the f150.

      • 0 avatar
        ttacgreg

        I would guess that lower end compact cars do exhibit more variable personalities than the larger pricier ones.

    • 0 avatar
      Coopdeville

      This looks to be the small car fanboi thread so I’ll chime in. Nearing 40, wife and I own one compact and one full-size. The compact is excellent at being reliable, fuel efficient, and fitting things into it. It’s terrible at everything else.

      I hate getting in and out of it. I hit my head on the ceiling in the passenger seat. It’s LOUD. Road noise, wind noise, engine noise, awful. It rides roughly and is way too stiffly sprung for no good reason.

      So yes I drive a large sedan because it’s quiet, smooth, and comfortable. My wife fell asleep the other day in the passenger seat as we bombed down a terrible stretch of I71 South at 85-90 mph. In her compact our fillings would have fallen out and we would still be deaf.

      I might be on board if you can get both domestic and foreign manufacturers to give me a bank vault quiet, smooth riding compact. Until then no small cars please.

      • 0 avatar
        Mandalorian

        Honestly, every vehicle should have AWD just for the sake of irritating the holier than thou “enthusiast”. It’s a free market, no point in telling someone what they need or don’t need.

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        It’s sounds like you’re driving a compact Mazda. A compact Verano or Golf would resolve all the issues you’re having. Look to the model, not the segment.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    More importantly, can you build a website that actually works? Logging in has now become torturous.

    As for a purely domestic small car, why? Isn’t the idea behind globalization to allow specialized production in those areas best suited for each type?

    So small or inexpensive cars should be manufactured in 3rd world nations. And hopefully luxury vehicles and pick-ups in North America. Of course that does not seem to be how thing actually are occurring.

    As to design there are already a number of ‘small’ vehicles that meet the needs of aging boomers, empty nesters, singles and urban dwellers. The Trax, the Soul, the HR-V, Mitsu RVR/Outlander Sport, heck even the 500L. Small(ish) yet able to hold 4, room for the dog, easy ingress/egress. All of most of what the market wants.

    What is needed most is what others have mentioned a ‘Quebec Special’ mode. The Base of Base. Manual windows and locks, available with 3 pedals, A/C optional. Priced at around $16k MSRP. Great for those looking for their first ‘new’ car, for those who need a cheap 2nd (or 3rd) runabout/grocery getter/kids’ car or for those using their vehicle for business (courier/Uber/etc).

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      You reminded me of what Hank the Deuce liked to say: “Small cars, small profits.”

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Lol, I know you’re probably talking about Canadian dollars, but the MSRP of a new base Sentra is about $16.9k, and I’m betting that includes most if not all of the features your theoretical car doesn’t. And if not, a warrantied CPO Fusion/Accord/Altima/Camry/Malibu would.

      Few people would choose such a basic car. I like what you’re describing, I like the Micra they sell up there, but the demand for it (in the US) isn’t there.

      “So small or inexpensive cars should be manufactured in 3rd world nations. And hopefully luxury vehicles and pick-ups in North America. Of course that does not seem to be how thing actually are occurring.”

      With the exception of the Sonic, that is what occurs. The Fiesta and Fit are made in Mexico (I think Versa is as well). The Mirage is made in Thailand. I believe the Accent and Rio are still made in South Korea.

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      Maybe a topic for another QTOD, list what aspects of a vehicle are important from most to least.
      MIne would be quietness, good seats, competent ride/ handling, front drive, smallish, 0-60 in 8-10 seconds, Wagon or hatchback, manual gear selection (although CVTs are getting very good), minimum “connectivity” and basic sound system.

  • avatar
    I_like_stuff

    People like bigger. Every iphone released is bigger than the last one. 32″ TVs are now small TVs you buy for the kitchen, while the one in the family room is 60″. A 2000 sq ft home is an entry level home. And so on.

    In this environment there is not much demand for a Yaris or Fit, or whatever junk GM might come up with.

  • avatar
    Rnaboz

    I Love small cars. I am the only person in it 90% of the time so I prefer the better dynamics of small cars. However, between the crash tests from insurance companies and meeting Fed crash standards, a small light weight car is harder to make. People will NOT buy small cars en masse anymore. Some Mid-size cars barely fit 3 car seats. Big is King. Sorry to say!

    • 0 avatar
      deanst

      I drive a compact alone 90% of the time and often wonder why I need 3000 lbs + of metal and plastic just to move myself. Bring back the days of 2000 lb small cars!

      • 0 avatar
        Rnaboz

        My Cooper weighs in at 2500#’s!

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          I sold my ’12 Civic LX that weighed in at 2600lb. A very competent and efficient car, but after a long day at work driving home in traffic over bad roads, I totally see the appeal of a larger, heavier vehicle, maybe even one that you sit up higher in. Just returned a rental Ford Edge, maybe I’m getting old and lame, but man what a fantastically relaxing and stress-free vehicle to drive/commute home in.

  • avatar
    TOTitan

    We have a 2016 Golf sportwagen for a daily driver. IMHO it is the perfect errand running in town car and no one else makes a small wagon. I do have a couple other vehicles for other uses……a 335d torque monster for long distance, and a Nissan Titan modded with big brakes and Firestone air bags for towing/hauling.

    • 0 avatar
      stevelovescars

      Yup. A small wagon is a great package and does what most people need, but they don’t buy them. Personally, I liked the Saturn SW2 wagons… twin-cam engines, available manual trans, decent space and fuel economy. As a one-car family (single parent) I drive a mid-sized wagon because it does everything I need. A small sedan wouldn’t be as useful but the VW Sportwagen or a decent hatchback could possibly work.

      I fully understand the manufacturers’ view here, trucks and SUVs = profit. But I just see them getting caught flatfooted again when fuel prices (eventually) go back up.

      Look, a new Honda Civic is larger and more powerful than the mid-sized Accord was 20 years ago and I don’t recall anyone complaining that those were too small. My mom had a 1987 LXi Accord and we thought that thing was amazingly roomy and fun to drive in the day. Yeah, mid-sized cars may get essentially the same fuel economy but they do cost more to get into up front.

      As for Chevy looking to cancel the Volt, I understand it isn’t selling well. It isn’t the idea, it’s the size of the thing. It truly is too small inside and with a Cruz offering more space, good fuel economy, and a substantially lower price of entry, I can see the issue in the showroom. I wanted a Volt, but that back seat was too small for even my 13 year old son to use comfortably.

  • avatar
    pmirp1

    Coming from someone who just bought a Silverado crew cab, not just with regular V8 but with the largest V8 possible, it seems like an interesting proposition. And how can a country develop something good when there is little appetite for it locally (see large and mostly irrelevant Japanese trucks for case study).

    Bottom line, in most of America outside a handful of cities, small cars are useless. Most of AmerIcans need larger crewcab trucks and SUVs for our highways and safety. Even women rather be seen in small CUVs. Small car=poverty in America. Case closed

    • 0 avatar
      deanst

      Maybe 3% of the population “needs” crewcabs. What they want is another matter.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      @pmirp1: “Most Americans need larger crewcabs and SUV’s” is perhaps the most humorous thing I have read on TTAC since Crabspirits and BSTR left.

      As ‘deanst’ wrote perhaps “3% of the population needs crewcabs” the same goes for large SUVs.

      Small vehicle that sit 4 comfortably, provide superior mileage, are reliable and cheap to insure are ‘useful’ and adequately perform the tasks required by vehicles for the vast majority. However as per JB’s latest posting what we need and want we want or are led to believe we need by marketing/advertising (like AWD) are different things entirely.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        “adequately perform the tasks required by vehicles for the vast majority”

        Define “adequately”

        My family got by with a ’71 ZAZ 966 that overheated on hills, but it got us out to our grandparents place 300km away in about 10 hours over partially unpaved roads. We road-tripped down to Daytona beach in an ’85 Civic with no A/C. As soon as we could afford to, we upgraded to an ’89 Mazda MPV van and it vastly improved our comfort and ability to haul camping gear on trips. Our ’98 MPV with 4wd added hill climbing power with its V6 (it still sucked), rear AC and captains chairs and tinted windows for the passengers to be even more comfortable, and 4wd and ground clearance to make trips out to go cross-country skiing less harrowing for the last mile or so to the trailhead.

        These days I’d love the utility of a decent sized open bed, with a comfortable and roomy interiors with 2 full rows for passengers, and good clearance and 4wd for my trips to primitive campsites.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          Adequate: Sufficient, satisfactory.
          Meaning it performs the primary tasks required.

          As in: “the logging in process for TTAC is currently inadequate”.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            So where does the line get drawn in terms of sufficient/satisfactory? Our ’85 Civic got us down to Florida reliably, but it was a miserable hot buzzbox on the interstate. We didn’t absolutely NEED the space of our first minivan, but being able to stretch out, sleep in the back, all while in air conditioned bliss sure made those road trips a whole lot easier.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            And what guarantee is there that any small car will ever be used for a road trip of the sort you describe, getm? Panning a car because it can’t do EVERYTHING? NO car can do everything, no matter the size. You buy what best meets your needs, your wants and your wallet, not the biggest or smallest thing on the road. I’ve taken road trips in everything from that Fiat 500 to a full-sized pickup. I’ve taken road trips in sports coupes and luxury cars, and most things in-between. Obviously some are better than others for such road trips. BUT a road trip car is not necessarily good as a city car nor would a city car necessarily be good as a road car. Knowing what best meets the everyday need is far more important than what goes the farthest on a tank of gas or how often you need to stop or how long it takes to refuel or whatever stupid excuse is made to say one car is better than another.

            The best car is the one that is most useful to YOU. Period. That won’t be the one that’s most useful to ME, and shouldn’t even matter to anyone else. This kind of divisiveness is why our society is in the shape it is today and why there will always be conflict when there instead should be compromise and a willingness to work together.

            In other words, gtem, there IS NO LINE and shouldn’t be. Drawing that line creates conflict and it’s long past time when conflict should have been abandoned.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Vulpine I agree with your takeaway point, I was specifically taking issue with this statement:

            “Small vehicle that sit 4 comfortably, provide superior mileage, are reliable and cheap to insure are ‘useful’ and adequately perform the tasks required by vehicles for the vast majority”

            If vast majority includes families with 2+ children, and again under the fair assumption that they will do at least some longer drives for the holidays/vacations (hauling gifts, beach gear, pets?), I think most of us would gravitate to a larger vehicle. Yes we COULD get by with something much smaller and inherently less comfortable to spend time in and more fatiguing to drive, and perhaps a single/couple can easily do just that. But if families are included in this “vast majority,” I’d say at least midsize sedans, but more so minivans, midsize crossovers, etc are the order of the day.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            And again, gtem, I’m saying that for a measurable portion of the population, they simply do not want nor need bigger and I explained why. I, for one, will not go bigger than I want, no matter how much more capable it may be. It’s a total waste of money AND risks being unable to go where I want, when I want, how I want. I’ve had big. It works for many things. But I don’t like having to go out of my way to go places where something smaller could have passed right in.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            “measurable portion”

            Well I’m talking about the “vast majority.” You’re moving goal posts here.

            There is obviously a correlation between posting on TTAC and being a miserable pedant (referring to both of us here).

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            There is no such thing as a “vast majority” in the automotive business. There are some large portions but no one vehicle or vehicle type owns the “vast majority”, though pickup trucks as a whole makes up one of the largest groups. Crossovers own a huge secondary share but that’s made up of nearly every non-BoF SUV as well. Cars, as in sedans, coupes and wagons, make up the third portion that is shrinking but not totally insignificant yet. In all three types, there IS a demand for smaller, though cars do have some players already there.

      • 0 avatar
        Carilloskis

        Any one who is above average height who carries adults does. The sloping rooflines on many cars even fullsize and CUVs makes it impossible to fit an adult in the back seat. My dad and I went to the auto show to look at potential replacements for my moms diesel gate vw Passat ( which my youngest brother and I could not fit in the back seat as we sit too tall. ) the first vehicle we sit in was a king ranch F150 fx4 my dad at first thought $60k is too much for a pick up but everything else with similar equipment cost the same or more had no rear seat leg or head room. My dad is only 5’9 and could not physically fit in the back of half the cars and CUVs at the auto show. At the end he reached the conclusion that the f-150 was the best value there is. Basically if you need to take more than 2 adults and are any sort of out doors enthusiast you need a 1/2 ton truck or SUV

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          And there you reveal the problem with trying to develop a four-door coupe. It is a compromise that simply shouldn’t exist; there are other ways to offer four-door convenience without chopping off the four-door comfort. These four-door coupes are the death of the sedan in general when leaving things alone would have been far more convenient for all involved. But no, somebody thought that by combining sedan convenience with coupe shapes would offer a suitable replacement for two different types of cars that otherwise shared one platform. I wonder how many engineering dollars have been effectively wasted by that ridiculous concept?

          Ok, y’all bought a four-door pickup. It meets your needs and offers capabilities a fully enclosed model doesn’t. What happens to your luggage on a long trip? Four people’s luggage riding out in an open bed, not even counting anything else you might take along. Or, do you, like others, use a tonneau cover to hide the contents of the bed? Is it hard or soft? Lockable or easily opened for access? What do you do with it if you need to carry something that won’t fit under that cover? Get my point? That pickup might meet your family’s needs, but what did you lose as a result? Maybe a full-sized SUV would have been a better pick AND cheaper?

          But again, what’s good for me won’t necessarily work for you, and vice-versa. Some simply don’t need size. Some simply don’t need to carry four adults… ever. Getting what best meets your needs as an individual or a family is more important than saying “Bigger is Better for Everybody.”

      • 0 avatar
        JDG1980

        Most cars no longer seat 4 adults comfortably. Oh, there’s plenty of legroom, but the rear seat headroom is completely gone. To seat 4 adults, you need a crossover, SUV, or pickup truck (or one of the handful of real sedans remaining, like the Chrysler 300).

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          A small people mover. Fiat Panda, Kia Rondo, Mazda 5, Ford C-Max, or even a Focus wagon. Or a 4 door hatchback.

          Or as James May often opines a VW Golf, available in multiple configurations, small enough to used in dense urban environments, large enough to handle the vast majority of day to day tasks.

          ‘The Car of the People’.

          However that does not seem to apply to consumers most non-urban consumers in North America outside of Quebec.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            The Fiat Panda used to be a VERY popular car in Europe and other countries. Quite honestly, the Panda would have done far better here in the States than the 500x/L.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Domestics face too many headwinds in the small car market. Biggest one is probably resale. Foreign brands can lease you a Corolla or Jetta for $130/month, because their resale and cash flow can support that. Domestics can’t use those tricks. Plus with all their union/pension obligations they are already constrained; small cars just aren’t profitable enough.

    No worries though. As the Equinox and Encore show, GM CAN build crossovers customers want… and as much as you thrash and resist that is where the money is.

    PS…. fix the G-D website guys. Might be time to ditch WordPress. This isn’t the first time.

  • avatar
    GTL

    If they downsize, Boomers will be buying a small SUV or midsize CUV for ease of entrance and exit. Sedans are too low, large SUVs too high.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I could go for a “small car” if that car was something like a V8 ATS.

    As far as compact economy cars go, I’m fine with leaving that segment to Asia and Europe.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Do Americans ‘deserve’ one ? .

    Most assuredly _not_ .

    Would it be great if an American Auto Manufacturer could figure out how to build one that was decent quality and affordable yet still profitable ? . you bet .

    I’m a geezer yet I have always preferred smaller cars, had the Vega not been ruined by the accounting dept. I’da been its biggest fan .

    The simple fact is : given their druthers, most Americans will always buy the biggest Land Yacht they can afford .

    Not I but what the hell .

    Even my shop truck is laughably small by to – day’s standards ~ just big enough to carry a Motocycle, sheets of plywood, load of bricks/gravel or whatver but not too long, wide nor tall . 1969 Chevy C/10 short bed stepside .

    In 1954 Pops bought the cheapest VW Bus (Kombi) he could find and all six of us kids plus Mom fit in just fine and drove every where in New England in all weather with all our crap Winter, Summer, year ’round .

    You don’t _NEED_ a Land Barge but there’s no reason not to have one if you want one .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    George B

    Jack, I don’t care enough about small cars to care where the engineering occurs. Without CAFE, American manufacturers wouldn’t even bother to manufacture low profit small cars in the US. Large cars easily fit in full size pickup sized parking spaces. The ultimate limit on highway fuel economy is how much air you have to push through and short length tall height dorky small cars offer no aerodynamic advantage over a longer car with the same cross section and decent legroom. Low, long, wide for country that stretches thousands of miles from coast to coast with highway traffic that moves at 80 mph.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I think is an interesting topic to meditate on. Along with the wholesale export of this nation starting with WTO on Jan 1 1995, R&D to some degree went with it. Actual Americans could engineer and build a small car, but to paraphrase Sir James Goldsmith: you’re too expensive folks. You want holidays, you want protections, you want unions. They can employ 47 people for every one of you offshore and GATT/WTO allowed it to become a reality.

    When Detroit Three’s finances started to shake and market share loss become permanent, they took cost cutting measures such as exporting some R&D. Even if one of them brought it back, and even if they built something truly competitive with Civrolla, would it sell? Toyonda has done a great job of creating and owning the small car market in USDM. Their product has largely been excellent and their reliability/dealer/service experiences mostly positive. Why are small car buyers going to switch unless the market leaders stagnate? Hey our new 6000SUX is better! So what if it is? Why am I going to take a risk instead of just re-upping my Civrolla?

  • avatar
    stingray65

    An American automaker hasn’t been able to make a profit on small cars since the Model T Ford went out of production in 1927. American labor costs tend to be high and development costs for a small car are almost the same as for a big car. American cities were mostly designed around the car and in most places the streets are wide, parking is readily available, travel distances are vast, and fuel prices are low, which means a small car offers no advantages to most US drivers, but costs almost as much to buy and operate as a larger more comfortable safer car. Small cars make sense in other markets because their governments tax the crap out of fuel, and cities were developed before cars and hence have limited parking and narrow streets, which is why foreign manufacturers can sometimes make a small profit on small cars and find a little niche in the US for those few people that want/need small cars. In other words – if you are shareholder/UAW worker of Ford or GM or FCA you should curse any manager who insists on designing and building a small car in the USA because it will hurt your share price, dividend, and employment prospects.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    I’m constantly baffled by the confoundment around here at the notion that someone could possibly want a small car. For a group that skews pretty conservative, you’d think there’d be no need to analyze why someone only chooses to buy within their needs.

    For instance, I drive a subcompact. As far as size goes, I might find once or twice a year I could use something bigger, but in this case, bigger would be a Honda Fit. If I bought something bigger, I’d just be spending more money (both in purchase price and fuel since most of my driving is urban). I could put towards something that’s not a depreciating asset, doesn’t fit as well in my single parking spot (shared with a motorcycle), and doesn’t bring me more joy. At best, I could see upgrading to a regular compact for my next car just for the sake of slightly calmer gearing and better sound deadening, but neither of those have to be exclusive to bigger cars.

    Also, as a Canadian, I have limited stake in a good American small car. I’m more than open to it (I’ve owned an Escort and Cavalier, and learned to drive in a Sundance, and harbour no ill will to any of them). But, if I wanted to get patriotic and buy a small car, my choices are the Alliston-built Civic or the Woodstock-built Corolla (hopefully they bring out a TNGA-based generation soon). Labour costs mean I don’t see the Big 2.5 bringing anything small up here, well, ever.

  • avatar
    notwhoithink

    I dunno, I always felt like the reason the big three stopped making those cars here and importing them from other countries is because we suck at it. I mean, look at the Neon you mentioned.

    The truth is, only a very small subset of the American market seems to not want these small cars. Does anyone buy a Sonic, Rio, or a non-ST Fiesta because they **want** to drive something like that? No, they do it because it’s the only thing they can afford. In other places (Europe, South Asia) there is a lot more demand for these cars, and consequently the designers in that part of the world have upped their game to the point where they’re really good at it. Here in the US we treated them like an afterthought, much like we think of the customer that buys them. In other countries they are a significant part of the market and treated accordingly.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “What about you? Do you dream of a top-notch American car? ”

    I don’t have to dream, I own one. It’s called a Chevy Volt and there isn’t another small car I’d rather drive because nothing else compares. In fact I hate small cars in general so the fact that I even own it is pretty much a miracle. It joined a 2500 HD Sierra CC PU and a Chevy Tahoe when I brought it home. The Sierra is gone (boo- hoo) and the ‘Hoe gathers dust until I’ve got a boat, camper or snowmobile trailer to tow.

  • avatar
    John R

    Looks like small cars are running into the same problem the loveseat has. The manufacturing process has become such that it’s only $30 more for the sofa. So why wouldn’t you get the sofa?

  • avatar
    Jack Denver

    Forgive me, but this is kind of a dumb question. In our own minds, we DESERVE a lot of stuff. I DESERVE to be younger and better looking and richer and so on. But in real life, we rarely get what we THINK we deserve, we get what the cold eye of the market thinks is warranted. If the market thought that designing and building small cars in America was a good idea, we’d be doing that already.

    Small cars suffer from the fact that the volume of a cube increases according to the (wait for it) cube of its linear dimensions. So doubling the volume of a vehicle does not require twice as much materials, not even close. For only a few thousand $ more, you could have the next size vehicle up and that vehicle will be more comfortable, more spacious, etc. so most people will go for it. And the manufacturer would rather sell you that vehicle because the increase in cost to it for the larger car is even less than the increase in price to you.

    Sure there are times when the economy is bad or gas is expensive and people go looking for smaller, cheaper cars, but the rule in American history has been that the minute this temporary situation goes away, people turn back to larger vehicles. The only reason it’s not the same in other countries is that they have consistently had punishing fuel or displacement taxes that have forced people into smaller vehicles than they would otherwise prefer.

  • avatar
    Shockrave Flash Has Crashed

    I predict that there will be an open sourced small car in our future. The development tools keep getting cheaper.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      How do you manufacture an open-source car?

      I’d argue we’ve long had the open-source vehicle here in the USA, all you had to do was learn how to modify and repair your car to make it better.

      Buy used, buy the cheap version and improve. Make it last longer than everyone else and enjoy cheap used parts.

  • avatar
    zip89123

    Too many say their Focus is a POS. For had their big chance to impress after the GM & Chrysler bankruptcies, and Ford failed miserably when Focus buyers found out their transmissions are junk. Those buyers not only swear off Ford’s small cars, they’re done with Ford. Ford sometimes does more for Toyota, Honda, & Hyundai than those 3 can do for themselves.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Makes me wonder how I survived driving/riding on bias ply tires, narrow roads, many of them dirt, in tinny little penalty boxes back in the 50’s & 60’s ~ criss crossing America burning low grade paraffin based oils no less .

    -Nate

  • avatar

    Lets be honest America has never really figured out how to produce a decent small car at a good price. GM came very close with the popular and reliable Saturn division, but of coarse GM destroyed that.

    Below is my list of the ten best US small cars of all time.(These are cars engineered and designed in America. Cars like the Cruze and Sonic obviously don’t fit this criteria.) As you can see the list is slim pickings.

    Saturn SLs
    Neon
    Beretta/Corsica
    Fiero
    Pacer
    Sundance (Chrysler)
    Gremlin
    Omni
    1984 Cavalier Z24
    1988 Shelby CSX

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      Going out on a limb here :

      ? Corvair ? .

      I think they’re good cars, so sue me .

      -Nate

      • 0 avatar

        The Corvair was not safe.

        The Saturn and the Neon was the cream of the crop among US small cars.

        • 0 avatar
          -Nate

          ? Did you never drive one then ? .

          I did, a 1961 base model Coupe with Powerglide slushbox, it had bias ply tires and I ran it hard as I always do, in the twisty bits, never spun out on me like they did back when new ~ one has to pay attention when driving .

          I know they had the problem with spinning out and the rear wheels tucking under and causing rollovers yet I enjoyed mine quite a bit

          Had Generous Motors Corp. not cheaped out (! $1.50 per car !) and deleted the rear sway bar they’d have been fine .

          -Nate

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          After a relatively small modification, the Corvair was as safe as any other car of its day. But its reputation was destroyed by one man and one book which killed its sales despite its superior qualities. That sort of thing has happened to many good brands and many good cars over the years… because people can’t forget factors that were changed long before they became ‘relevant’ to upgraded models. Even now, a vehicle’s obsolete reputation is more important to the buyer than its very real capabilities.

          Why?

  • avatar
    DownEaster

    As a person who has always driven small cars, I’d like an American engineered one but it probably never will happen again but will be engineered internationally. This has been done before. The design of the Chevette came from Brazil and Europe. The Escort was a European design in the 1980s and Mazda based in the 1990s. The Neon and Sundance/Shadow were domestic but the old Omni/Horizon by Chrysler were internationally engineered. I think another consideration that needs to be looked at is that people who want to “buy American” will not buy a Ford Focus made in China or a Chevrolet made in Mexico just because it has a “domestic” nameplate on it. It ends up ruining and losing “brand loyalty”. GM tried a “Manhattan Project” small car with the original S Series Saturns. They were good cars. I had 1994 Sl-1 and it drove and handled well and I liked the body that didn’t rust in the Maine winters. But GM lost interest and didn’t improve the car and it lost its uniqueness with the Ion. I think a domestic small car would succeed with a something innovative like the Saturn and a “No Dicker Sticker”. The attitude of the Saturn dealers which was excellent also helped. Also uniqueness and innovation with a twist is what made cars like the Saturn S Series, Neon, and PT Cruiser successful but all became stale. The small car market currently isn’t there either. Also the profits on small cars are slim to being a loss. Scion was also recently discontinued as a brand. When gas prices go up again, people will want small cars again. Then maybe some innovation will come back to the USA.

  • avatar
    whitworth

    I love more choices, but the only reason the big 3 fools with these cars is CAFE compliance. It’s sure as hell not profits.

    So I expect more badge engineered small global cars because that’s cheaper and most of the criteria is just about low cost anyway. They want to these loss leaders as cheap as possible and so do consumers.

    And small cars just don’t make sense for most places in the United States. The operating cost between a small hatchback and a midsize sedan is a rounding error for most budgets.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      “And small cars just don’t make sense for most places in the United States. The operating cost between a small hatchback and a midsize sedan is a rounding error for most budgets.”

      Operating costs aren’t the only factor a buyer needs to take into consideration; physical size itself has to be considered, especially in metropolitan areas. That one foot difference in length may mean the difference between finding a convenient parking place along the curb or being forced into an expensive parking garage. Or maybe the smaller car offers a level of agility that can’t quite be matched by a larger one. My Fiat 500, for example, could move through traffic in ways larger cars couldn’t and I took advantage of that ability frequently.

      So money alone is not enough for some buyers; how it meets their needs may be more important.

      • 0 avatar
        JDG1980

        Yes, as Whitworth said, they don’t make sense in *most* places in the United States. There are a handful of big cities where they may make sense for space reasons, but people in these cities often don’t own a car in the first place. And ride-sharing services make non-ownership an increasingly viable option in dense urban areas.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          One question, JDG: Would YOU ride with a ride-sharing service if you had your own car? Would YOU ride with a ride-sharing service if there was a licensed and certified taxi service available? Would YOU ride with a ride-sharing service if there was an effective alternative?

          I agree that some cities have issues; New York City itself is now one of the worst with a century-old subway system in dire need of major repairs that should require months, if not years of suspended service to repair them properly. Other cities put far more work into ensuring decent and effective public transportation. Some only spend enough to keep it running, no matter how bad it gets aesthetically or functionally. The only reason ride-sharing is taking off in those cities is because the alternatives are worse. Cure the disease and you eliminate the symptoms. Just smothering the symptoms doesn’t cure the disease.

  • avatar
    Shawnski

    My first car was a ’71 Pinto I bought in ’83 for $400. It was a rust free CO car unlike most WI cars of the time that had holes in them after 5 years. Although it had certain Ford of Europe influences (drivetrain) it was all American metal, robust simple and fun. My next car; a German built ’80 Fiesta S, which was also fun but light years ahead in terms of room, efficiency and drivability. My future wife bought a new ’84 Escort L (for Lisa…) and while this shared much with the FOE Escort in terms of design and engineering, it was built for a price. And there in lies the rub; US based small cars are built with lower expectations and sold on price. My oldest son recently purchased a Focus RS (not a car bought on price) This German built small car has noticeably better plastic and vinyl than a US/Mexican built Foci. Americans do offer good small cars. The first gen Neon is by most accounts an excellent small car, and you can’t kill a 2 gen Cavilier “cockroach”. I believe that the next gen Foci, euro engineered and built in China will have that same level of build you see in the current German RS since it won’t be finalized here. BTW, Mexican built US sold VW GTI’s are inferior to German built R’s in terms of fit and finish.

    Why are BMW over engineered and expensive? Iit’s in their DNA and people pay. American car companies still have a lot to overcome, based on some bad decisions and some unfair perceptions. l keep my eyes open for clean ’71-’73 Pinto’s.

  • avatar
    DIYer

    Everyone I know who had a Saturn liked their car.

    The problem was it competed with Chevrolet and Pontiac, and within GM, Saturn was hated by all.

    GM probably should have kept the Saturn brand to sell in China, but the Chinese love Buicks because the Last Emperor bought one in 1912. In China, Buick has royal pedigree.

    • 0 avatar
      Truckducken

      Had two new Saturns in the ’90’s. Both were unreliable rattletraps and the worst two new cars I’ve ever owned.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        Awww… too bad. Everyone I knew who had one said they were just about the most reliable cars they’d ever owned… including me, since I, too, owned one because of all the glowing reviews I heard from real-life owners.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Since we’ve given Ford, GM et al 40 years to come up with a comparable Corolla and they haven’t been able to do it, I say let it go. Let them focus (haha) on what they do best and leave the small cars to the experts elsewhere.

  • avatar
    Shortest Circuit

    It’s the age old problem: small cars cost as much to build, as big ones. A big car is expected to sell for big bucks, so it has a good ROI. A small car is expected – however brilliantly set-up, however good quality interior, however brilliant engines it has – to sell for a smaller amount of money. So it needs to be a real barn-burner, big volume product to earn some cold hard cash. Which one of the 3 struggling manufacturers is going to put up the money to develop one? My bet is in the region of number that cause a ?DIVISION BY ZERO error in the vintage computers that were made the last time the Big3 tried something like that.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • Fred: Off topic, but wanted to note that your RSS feed is messed up a little. I clicked on the headline and was taken...
  • Joss: Nissan NA got more pressing problems like Trump NAFTA and 50% U.S. content. CR slammed Sentra/Versa quality...
  • JohnTaurus: And where has he said that exactly? More of your hyperbole. He has only said that bit players will...
  • eyeofthetiger: Fiesta 1.0 Ecoboost runs about 2,500 RPM at 70 MPH. It is so relaxed on the highway. 5th gear is a...
  • eyeofthetiger: I don’t know what an Avenir is or how to pronounce it. The best LaCrosse model is the base trim...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributors

  • Matthew Guy, Canada
  • Ronnie Schreiber, United States
  • Bozi Tatarevic, United States
  • Chris Tonn, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States
  • Mark Baruth, United States
  • Moderators

  • Adam Tonge, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States