The fortunes of small cars used to be tied to gas prices. Sales of compacts rose when gas prices shot up, when gas came down, big was beautiful again. Sales of small cars are up strongly in America, but this time, it’s different, think two of the US motor industry’s most senior executives. They believe that the trend won’t reverse, and that sales of small cars will go further up. (Read More…)
A few years ago I was let in on a secret: Toyota’s dreams of world domination hinged on capturing hip young buyers interested in green tech and high fuel economy. Of course, Toyota’s hybrid plans have been the worst kept secret since In-N-Out’s “secret menu” and as a result, the green Gen Y boys and girls I know in Berkeley have been excited for years about a “baby Prius”. Well kids, the blue spaceship landed in La Jolla and Toyota invited us down to take a drive. Does a hybrid Yaris with more MPGs than you can shake a stick at have what it takes help Prius become Toyota’s best-selling nameplate? Let’s find out.
For most Americans, the term “small car” typically refers to a C-segment sedan like the Honda Civic or Ford Focus, cars that now qualify as midsizers in many key metrics. Subcompact, or B-segment cars are generally considered the smallest of the small, as their name implies… but ask an American to describe a car smaller than a subcompact, and they’ll likely look at you quizzically before hesitantly suggesting “Smart car?” Yes, the A-Segment, known in Europe as the “City Car” or Microcar” class, is such a rarity in the US that it’s basically synonymous with the one car “competing” in it (Fiat’s 500 hasn’t quite broken into the public consciousness yet).
But, with Chevy execs confirming once and for all that the on-again-off-again (for the US) Chevy Spark (a.k.a. Daewoo Matiz Creative) will in fact be sold in the US (likely as a 2013 model) early next year, the American A-segment is about to get a whole lot of attention. But the question is this: does the fact that America’s first new A-segment car in a decade is a Chevy help or hurt the segment’s chances (consider that previous US A-segment cars like the 500 and Smart are positioned as premium offerings)? Is this car, with its 80 HP/82 lb-ft, 1.2 liter engine a pioneering game-changer that will introduce America to a whole new world of tiny cars, or is it just CAFE compliance fodder? One thing is for certain: everyone from Hyundai to Ford (which have the i10 and Ka waiting in the wings) is going to be watching the Spark with great interest.
The best-selling nameplates in America may still be pickup trucks, but for the first time in nearly a decade, cars and car-based crossovers are outselling the body-on-frame competition. The shift occurred in the second half of 2007, as gas prices built to their Summer 2008 peak, and despite more reasonable energy prices, consumers do not appear to be going back to large trucks and SUVs en masse. And, as Automotive News [sub] reports, the downsizing of America’s buying tastes is doing more than just putting a fork in the SUV fad.