Mercedes, BMW and Volkswagen/Audi are all moving inexorably towards a major downmarket expansion, as they develop a new generation of compact and subcompact cars based on front-wheel-drive architectures. Though Volkswagen has played in this space for some time, the move is a major cultural shift for BMW and Mercedes, which are typically associated with rear-drive luxury cars, particularly in the US market. But the truth is that the German luxury brands have always sold products in the German and other European markets that don’t match their premium overseas brand images (see, among other examples, the ubiquity of Mercedes taxis in Germany). But the strange thing about this next push towards smaller cheaper cars is that it’s not not aimed at Germany at all.
As Europe moves towards ever more premium subcompact cars, Opel has sought to hop on the bandwagon by giving its Corsa-based Meriva Micro-MPV stylish suicide doors. And with Buick moving towards simple rebadges of Opel’s product, the suicide-doored Meriva seems almost certain to arrive stateside as the so-called “Baby Enclave” MPV, expected to debut in the US market in 2012. There’s little doubt of the suicide door concept’s gimmick value, and we’ve said before that this factor alone could get Americans excited about the first-ever Buick subcompact… but just how much of a difference do the rear-hinged doors make in real life? According to the first German-market comparison test (by Auto Motor und Sport print edition), the Meriva’s suicide doors are still just a gimmick.
Kia’s Soul didn’t have the most electrifying launch sales-wise, but with the release of its second buzz-worthy ad, the funky little box is becoming a major player in our A/B/Small Hatch segment. The Nissan Versa is clearly the dominant player here, selling nearly twice as well as the Soul. Meanwhile, there’s a tight pack of offerings that have moved at least 20k units this year, that ranges from the aged HHR to the MINI Cooper. Look for a big shake-up in this segment once Ford’s Fiesta production hits high gear.
Chrysler is considering bringing a Fiat-engineered subcompact sedan from Serbia to North America under the Chrysler brand. The Chrysler brand product plan, unveiled in November, called for a Fiat-derived subcompact sedan to be imported in 2013. The vehicle would be built in Kragujevac, Serbia, where Serbian automaker Zastava Automobili once made the Yugo.
Chrysler? Fiat-engineered subcompact? The Yugo plant? C’mon Automotive News [sub]… April Fools was weeks ago. Besides, this seems too cruelly ironic to even properly be a joke. Remember, these little gags have to come from a place of love…
BusinessWeek reports that Nissan could be up a certain creek without a certain instrument. In Europe, Nissan competes in the low cost, city car segment (just below cars like the Toyota Yaris and Honda Jazz) by selling a rebadged Suzuki Alto which they call the “Nissan Pixo”. This car competes with the Toyota Aygo/Peugeot 107/Citroen C1, Fiat Panda and the Volkswagen Fox (which is curious, because the BW article says “Volkswagen Lupo” which hasn’t been sold in Europe since 2005). But since Suzuki got a German partner (insert your own Bertel Schmitt reference here), the Pixo is looking a bit left out in the cold. The burning question: would Suzuki carry on supplying Nissan with cars or would the Wolfsburg Warriors put pressure on Suzuki to say “Nein”?
As we’ve noted before, there are lots of ways to skin a segment. Here’s one of them. Notice that four of the top five sellers here are also available as sedans, the Honda Fit being the only exception. Interestingly, compact hatches tend to carry a premium over their sedan variants.
Yesterday we confronted established automakers’ fears of the disposable automobile imported from China or India, but as Automotive News [sub] reports, the majors aren’t just sitting still on the issue. Nissan, which already sells a decontented Versa for $10k is planning two more vehicles at that price point for the US market, based on its new low-cost “V” platform. “The V platform will be sourced in Mexico” reveals Nissan’s North American chairman. Three vehicles will actually be produced in Mexico on the platform, but only two of them will be sold stateside.