By on May 18, 2010

About a half-hour after TTAC’s 15 Years of Compact Car Sales graph went up today, the normally enthusiast-oriented car blog Jalopnik gave the internet its own take on compact-car segment analysis with a post titled The Ford Fiesta Will Dominate The Small Car Segment. Some might question how this is supposed to jive with Jalopnik’s alleged commitment to “awesomeness,” but our concerns are far more prosaic. Examples: the absence of the Fiesta’s actual competitors like the Honda Fit, Nissan Versa and Toyota Yaris, and the absence of interior volume comparisons which would expose this “comparison” for the fraud it is. And that’s just for starters…

Of course, Jalop’s Ben Wojdyla covers his own ass by disclaiming that

We’ve run the numbers on the Ford’s newest entry to the compact car segment — the Fiesta — and put together the following chart comparing it to the top four highest-selling small cars (one size larger than the compact segment) in the U.S. marketplace. We think it explains very well why we think the Fiesta’s going to sell as well as we claim…

…There are certainly many factors not considered here including interior space, styling inside and out, buyer loyalty and all the vagaries which make the small car segment such vicious competition.

Let’s ignore the segment-definition semantics and focus on interior space for a moment, as this is clearly the most important missing link. By comparing the B-Segment (subcompact) Fiesta with C-Segment (compact) “competitors,” Wojdyla is assuming that Americans simply don’t consider size in their vehicular purchases. Though almost anyone could confirm just how misguided this perspective is, let’s use a real world example by comparing Ford’s Fiesta with a real competitor: Toyota’s Yaris sedan with automatic transmission.

According to Toyota, the Yaris weighs 2,346 lbs to the Fiesta’s 2,400 lbs. Its 1.5 liter engine makes 14 horsepower and 9 lb-ft less than the Fiesta’s, and offers only a 4-speed autobox. This drivetrain deficit translates into a Fiesta-identical 29 MPG in the city, but a more C-segment-like 35 MPG on the freeway. In short, the Fiesta’s got a more modern drivetrain… big surprise considering the Yaris has been around since 2005.

Where the comparison gets, well, apt, is the interior volumes and pricing. The Fiesta sedan offers 85 cubic feet of EPA “passenger volume” and 12.8 cubic feet of luggage capacity. By comparison, the Yaris four-door offers over 87 cubic feet of EPA “passenger volume” and 12.9 cubic feet of trunk room. Based on our “build your own” research, a base Yaris sedan with autobox costs just under $800 more than the cheapest available slushbox Fiesta sedan, but comes with more equipment, including such basics as a CD player. We’ll let Michael Karesh fill in the gaps on pricing, but suffice it to say they’re pretty much a wash.

Regardless, what Jalopnik’s “analysis” and prediction of Fiesta dominance assumes is that a slightly smaller Yaris with an updated drivetrain and styling (and a blue oval where the “T” should be) will sell in the kind of volume that will challenge C-segment entries. And this is where things fall apart completely. In its four full years of US sales (2006-2009), the Yaris sold 70,308, 84,799, 102,328, and 63,743 units. In those four years, Toyota’s C-Segment competitor, the Corolla, never sold fewer than 296,874 units (2009). Honda’s Fit also has the same four years of sales data, and despite earning rave reviews it’s never cracked 80k annual sales. Honda’s Civic averaged over 300k units per year over the same four-year period.

Given how flawed Jalopnik’s premise is, and how poorly it was argued, one has to wonder: why print this at all? Was this just filler? Was Wojdyla merely phoning in a half-baked concept? It’s certainly possible… after all, no blogger can be completely on top of his game at all times. But then, economy-car segment analysis isn’t exactly Jalopnik’s idea of filler. And, as the Detroit Free Press (and Bloomberg, and, well, everyone) reports, Ford’s Fiesta marketing machine is swinging into high gear today, as The Blue Oval gears up for its self-proclaimed “biggest launch of the year” by launching its new Fiesta ads.

Now, we don’t want to make any accusations without proof of an explicit quid-pro-quo, but we’ll let you connect the dots. Instead of making passive-aggressive but ultimately unprovable implications of auto-media shenanigans, let’s simply let the circumstances speak for themselves. Jalopnik’s Fiesta “segment analysis” is just too off-base, too out of character, too convenient for Ford’s marketing efforts and too perfectly timed to coincide with said marketing to not raise a few eyebrows. We don’t think TTAC should should have a blogopoly on segment analysis, sales breakdowns, and the like, but these kinds of content only work when they actually create meaning. Jalopnik’s attempt was confusing at best, and cynical prostitution of the facts at worst. In the future, they’d do best to stick with the “awesomeness.”

[Editor’s note: The tortured relationship between automakers and the media outlets that cover them has long been a major topic of interest here at TTAC (check out our “Media” tab for more). Over decades, competition between auto media sources has created a buyer’s market for credibility and given rise to a range of implicit and explicit quid-pro-quo agreements, in which OEMs trade journalist access and advertising dollars for favorable coverage. Jalopnik has officially and emphatically disclaimed any form of quid-pro-quo in this instance, and we must reiterate that we have no evidence of any such agreement.

The original purpose of this post was to “peer-review” the content and context of Jalopnik’s comparison analysis in the spirit of this site’s commitment to the truth. Our conclusion that the comparison was ultimately misleading and poorly timed remains unchanged. As does our respect for Jalopnik as an enthusiast site that should never have to stoop to anything as embarrassingly pedantic as segment analysis. After all, that’s our job.]

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60 Comments on “What’s Wrong With This Picture: Analysis-Retentive Edition...”

  • avatar

    Four-speed auto on the Corolla and Cobalt? What century are we in?

    • 0 avatar

      We’re in the century where Toyota was taking advantage of their goodwill (at least until recently) by offering less content/sophistication for the money and sheeple (oops..I mean customers) were happily accepting it. Meanwhile, GM was doing what they always do.

    • 0 avatar

      Two points:
      * Only the 1.8L Corolla comes with a four-speed; the 2.4L gets five gears.
      * When these two were released, most economy cars came with a four-speed anyways.

      I’m not completely sold on multi-gear automatic transmissions in economy cars: they end up feeling busy and the extra weight and cost might not be worth it. Nissan’s CVTs are, I think, the right idea here.

    • 0 avatar

      You forgot that the Yaris also has a 4-speed auto. Same as the Aveo. But guess which one is getting the bashing in the media for that.

      The Yaris, praised, even the gearbox.

      The Aveo bashed (deservedly), but also because of the gearbox.

      Where’s the fairness in the comparisons? If a GM or Ford or Chrysler product is going to be bashed because of a 4-speed auto, so should be the Japanese or European competitors.

      X2 on Wheeljack. They have been doing so since the past century so no big suprise there.

    • 0 avatar

      Only people who don’t know about cars care about the number of transmission gears.

      Characteristic of good transmission:
      1) good torque matching (for good acceleration/deceleration)
      2) good reliability
      3) light weight
      4) less complex
      5) low cost

      Sorry, but if Toyota can build a 1-speed that meets these criteria better than Ford, then good for them.

    • 0 avatar


      Do you think that gears in an auto trans are like megapixels in a camera — a feature that has moved past the point of materially improving performance, and is now simply a cheap marketing ploy? That is patently ridiculous! More gears means better torque matching, and thus better performance and fuel economy.

      You say you’d take a one speed if it did the job better . . . but totally neglect the fact that it simply could not. Nor could a three speed, or a four. Auto companies are not moving to six or higher speed boxes just as a fashion statement, to catch the silly, ignorant consumer.

      And I believe (though my memory could be wrong) that six speed (conventional automatic) trannies have an inherent advantage in efficiency and perhaps even complexity . . . something to do with particular geometric design features that can only be done with six gears.

  • avatar

    I’m pretty sure the explanation is that when looking at photographs, Fiesta looks bigger than it actually is. I’ve seen screw-ups just like that in print media (e.g. comparing Flex with 1G xB).

    • 0 avatar
      Some Guy

      I saw one in person at an auto show recently, and it’s definitely smaller than the cars it’s being compared with.

      A smaller car weighs less and gets better fuel economy than a larger car? Who would’ve thunk?!!

      What WILL be interesting is how upcoming Cruze with 40 MPG will do in the marketplace, with size being a step above the Fiesta.

  • avatar

    Looks like a bogus curb weight for the Fiesta. Car and Driver tested it and claimed “2550–2650”. The US model is heavier than the euro model which may be what they were thinking of.

  • avatar

    Lousy analysis work by Jalopnik.

    Fiesta is a B+, not C-segment vehicle.

    Focus compares against these models, not Fiesta.

    Fiesta may very well be a hit, but not because Jalopnik did a good job with its analysis.

  • avatar

    j’accuse! *slap with driver’s glove*

  • avatar

    Don’t worry, it’ll all make sense when the Focus is compared to the Accord, Camry, Malibu and 6.

    On a serious note, I do think there’s not a lot of value in C-Segment cars when their B-Segment brethren are roomier, cheaper and more economical. The Fiesta is an exception to that: unlike, say, the Yaris, Versa or Fit, it’s fairly cramped and gives the Focus more of a raison d’etre.

    • 0 avatar

      The Focus gets a size bump, and a huge quality bump, for 2012 when we finally get the great European model.

      The Fiesta isn’t in any way cramped. Well, maybe the back seat is cramped, but most compact and subcompact buyers don’t care a whole lot about that, at least not in my experience. Families with needs for car-seats and space for growing kids in the back are still buying midsize sedans or crossovers far more often than compacts from what I see.

      And the Fiesta is more economical and more affordable than the Focus sticker to sticker. The current Focus has a ton of incentives which can bring it below the price of a Fiesta, but when the new model rolls out those are going to go away or be slashed dramatically.

      The Fiesta has greater front headroom and legroom than the Corolla, and nearly identical specs to the Civic. It isn’t hard to imagine people will cross shop the cars and go for the FIesta over the imports if it drives better, has more options, better fuel economy, and a lower price.

  • avatar

    Blogopoly? Boo, hiss.

    In other news, you write here that the Fiesta has a ‘slushbox’; my understanding is that it’s got a dual-clutch gearbox? Or is that only with certain trimlines?

    The 0-60 seems pretty awful, even for a cheap subcompact. I think my old ’93 Ford Escort ran to 60 in the 9s…

    • 0 avatar

      It’s an “automatic” transmission. Driver input is not needed for changing gears once the car is in “drive” or whatever the heck the selector says. “Slushbox” may be inaccurate but the term “automatic transmission” I think is. (The fact that it has the latest and greatest technology not withstanding.)

    • 0 avatar

      The 0-60 seems pretty awful, even for a cheap subcompact

      Most subcompacts are in or around that mark in North America. In Europe, equipped with a puny diesel or gas powerplant, you can expect to see >13 seconds.

    • 0 avatar
      Mirko Reinhardt

      The base Euro Fiesta (60hp) does 0-100 kph (0-62 mph) in 16.9 seconds. Which is perfectly class-competitive. The 120hp version isn’t a great seller in Europe. 120hp in a subcompact would be boy racer territory for the average Euro buyer.

  • avatar

    “0-60 seems pretty awful, even for a cheap subcompact. I think my old ‘93 Ford Escort ran to 60 in the 9s… ”

    Hey, my hawt 1983 Rabbit GTI was 0-60 9.7 seconds.

    0-90 in 29.5 seconds..

    • 0 avatar

      You were able to get it to 90!? Were you driving down a hill?

    • 0 avatar
      bill h.

      You could get them into three digits (mph), though just barely with the sunroof open.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a stock US spec ’84 Rabbit convertible. Stock CIS injection. Same under-pennings as a GTI I’ve read. The car topped out at 123 mph and I’ve driven it ~100 mph for 150 miles at a time on the Italian autostrada (Naples to Rome for example). Car had a 1.8L 8V 90HP four cylinder with a five speed transmission. GOOD little car that was a blast to drive. Only upgrade I did was to the GTI 14″ wheels. When I sold it the car had 190K miles and doing just fine. To me it was an excellent balance between weight and power. My ’97 Cabrio is IMHO opinion too heavy. No as easy to toss around back roads. The 115HP is fine though. 2-point-slow they call ’em but I have no problem keeping up with traffic or climbing the mtn roads around here. Perfectly capable of putting me in jail.
      I had it over 100 mph several times with the top down. Pretty noisy at those speeds top up or top down.

  • avatar

    I recently got my first chance to see a Fiesta in person, as well as sit inside, play with it and the electronics, and get the overall hands on experience.

    Myself and the other salespeople at my dealership were left with one big question – why would anyone buy the Focus once the Fiesta is available?

    As far as space goes, yes, the Focus has more space in the back seat, but in my experience people don’t buy compacts for rear seat space, so I’m not thinking that will take too many sales.

    The Fiesta feels roomier up front than the Focus does, feels higher quality overall, and has a solid edge when it comes to style. From what I understand driving dynamics are all also solidly in the Fiesta’s corner.

    Jalopnik’s reasoning may need more explanation than they give, but the Fiesta is to the small car segment what the Fusion was to the midsize. It’s the first domestic product in years that not only matches the imports in quality and appeal, but in many cases beats them.

    • 0 avatar

      The new Focus is going to offer the Fiesta’s level of design, but with better materials and obviously more room. I’ve seen and sat in one in person, and it was really, really good.

      The Fiesta may render the current Focus obsolete, but when the new one comes out, they will round out a pretty nice economy car field.

  • avatar

    OK, seriously, is TTAC THAT in the tank for Toyota? You ignore one really important fact. Even Consumer Reports has the Yaris on their ten worst list, the car scores for their evaluation was in the toilet for being a nightmarish experience to drive. Ever reviewer who has sat in a Fiesta has raved about the driving experience. I haven’t read any praise on the driving dynamics of a Yaris.

  • avatar

    Shouldn´t it be the Mazda2 (will go on sale in July 2010) INSTEAD of the mazda3 (considering it is basically the same car as the ford fiesta…)?

  • avatar

    When I saw that Jalopnik post first thing I thought was this has to be a paid advertisement.

  • avatar

    You missed the rest of that paragraph you were quoting:

    “There are certainly many factors not considered here including interior space, styling inside and out, buyer loyalty and all the vagaries which make the small car segment such vicious competition.”

    The next sentence in the paragraph might explain their point. You seem to forget that over at Jalopnik they are for cars, not just fast cars, so anything that is in their opinion better than everything around it will be praised:

    “Still, the Fiesta surprised us enough when we drove it to force us to wonder if due to the more lackadaisical efforts from GM, Honda and Toyota, they might be surprised to find the subcompact Fiesta eating their lunch.”

    • 0 avatar

      Ed, I agree with ralphiedc.

      I think this whole thing is a bit harsh. Looking at your comparisons of the Fiesta against it’s own smaller group of like cars, I think it equals some and betters others.
      And the fact that it can compete with the class above it is really the point, I think, of the article.

      “The Fiesta sedan offers 85 cubic feet of EPA “passenger volume” and 12.8 cubic feet of luggage capacity. By comparison, the Yaris four-door offers over 87 cubic feet of EPA “passenger volume” and 12.9 cubic feet of trunk room.”
      This shouts, BIG DEAL to me on the Yaris. Considering the Yaris is said to be years behind engineering wise.
      The Fiesta, from what EVERYBODY has stated in their reviews, is a fantastic car to drive. In fact the only thing pointed out against it is the smaller rear seat.

      It’s like I tried to explain in responding to psarhjinian, there HAS to be more than just function!
      The Yaris is OK.
      At least it has more style than the Fit does, to me.

      But Ford has done a great job of Style and Performance.

      I think Jalop was trying to show that they succeeded and the Fiesta was up to the class above it.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree that ralphiedc’s additional quote makes this comparison valid.

      Personally, I’ve been considering everything from a MINI to a TDI wagon as my next vehicle. While I admit that I may be a little A.D.D., I assume that there are other people like me in the market who know what their basic need is and also consider things like more rear seat room and wagon bodies as attractive options. Maybe I’m a freak of society, but I AM cross shopping the Fiesta and the Mazda3, so I don’t find this article so outrageous.

  • avatar

    This is nothing new for Jalopnik.

    Ford Mustang Gt versus BMW M3
    I expect a chart with the Mustang GT, CL63, V8 Vantage, GranTurismo, and RS5 any day now.

  • avatar

    Your average Merkin cheap car buyer buys whatever is the freshest from a car company they’ve actually heard of. Ford knows this, so they changed the name from Escort to Focus. GM also: Cavalier to Cobalt to Cruze. When the yearly super-sizing gets out of control, car makers insert another model with great fanfare and gas-sipping promises (Fit, Yaris, Versa, Aveo, Fiesta).
    Enthusiasts then debate which of the latest small car offerings is better. This is called bench top racing. Blogs then bicker about how other blogs are stupid and missing the point. This is called a circle-jerk, and there’s a happy ending for everyone (unless you’re still waiting for a $35k Focus RS Cosworth or VW R32).

    • 0 avatar

      And some of us would drive a 1991 Fiat Panda if the price was right and the car could be had new. All I’ve got to do is haul myself to work 7 miles and back at 45 mph or under with a stop along the way home for some groceries. 
      My point is that every car has a place in the market. That said I want something more substantial for interstate travel.

  • avatar

    Thank you TTAC for the peer review. I couldn’t help but think “what was Jalopnik smoking?”

  • avatar

    I have been reading both TTAC and Jalopnik for quite some time, and I equally respect both. Sadly, this attack on Jalopnik’s little “segment analysis” actually does more to damage TTAC’s reputation in my eyes. Why? Because it’s completely uncalled for, especially you throwing around epithets like “fraud”.

    I drove a new Fiesta in Brussels a couple of months ago, and I recently bought a Mazda3 hatchback here, in Canada. Now I think I should have held off buying a new car until the Fiesta becomes available in Canada. The Fiesta is roughly the same size as the Mazda3 – there’s nothing wrong about comparing the two. Plus or minus a couple of tenths of cu. feet makes no real difference. Now, the Fiesta is just as peppy and nimble as the Mazda, but it has two important advantages: (a) it is noticeably less thirsty, and (b) it just looks better both inside and outside. I would even venture to say that it drives better, but this may be a matter of taste.

  • avatar

    I think the Yaris would sell vastly more numbers if it wasn’t essentially occupying the same territory as Toyota’s big volume selling Prius. The Prius is simply a more attractive vehicle, for not much more cash. Personally I was convinced that the Fiesta was going to be a huge hit for Ford. That is until saw a Fiesta commercial for the first time tonight and said “eww, whats that?” Probably the hideous green paint.

    • 0 avatar

      The Yaris starts at just below $13k and you’re asserting that the Prius, starting just below $23k, is “not much more cash”? Seriously? Look at the two side by side and see if they really compare. The Prius is significantly larger and more expensive. People looking for a car like the Yaris are unlikely to be flipping a coin as to whether they get the Yaris or step up to a Prius.

  • avatar

    So the head of Honda R&D comes out and says that he doesn’t believe that there is a demand for all-electric vehicles… which is why they will focus on hydrogen cells. And that doesn’t get a bit of coverage here because it’s not newsworthy.

    But instead we see a 816 word (excluding the sophomoric addendum) snark against a Jalopnik piece. Plus there’s the umbrage taken at someone using Piston Slap as the name of their editorial corner. What gives?

  • avatar

    It seems easy to mix up the competitors when they are niche in a market. For example both Ed and some commentators compare Fiesta with Honda Fit (Jazz where I live) and they are not the same class vehicles as Fit is a b-segment MPV and Fiesta is a normal b-segment car. In the same way you could go and compare US mid size cars with Honda Odyssey.
    Just look at the shape, Fit doesn’t look like a normal car and therefore sells much slower then the proper superminis in Europe. Over here Fit’s competitors are Renault Modus, Ford Fusion (Euro), Opel Meriva and similar niche vehicles which sell in low volumes despite the big internal space advantage compared to the best selling superminis like fiesta, clio, 207, corsa …

    My point is all very small cars seems to be niche in US, no wonder they mixed it up.

    BTW, Yaris is something in between, Toyota has been very clever to create a car which somehow looks more like a car than an MPV but has a bit of that bulbous shape, has a movable rear seat and similar interior space as all the other Europe superminis even though many of them are almost a foot longer.

  • avatar

    This thing has me curious as to the actual interior dimensions..

    Front head leg hip room:

    Fiesta: 39.1 42.2 50.6
    Civic: 39.4 42.2 51.9
    Corolla: 38.8 41.7 53.0

    Read head leg hip room:

    Fiesta: 37.1 31.2 49.2
    Civic: 37.4 34.6 51.0
    Corolla: 37.2 36.3 43.9

    Certainly, it’s not really a C segment like the Civic and Corolla, but it does fit somewhere between the B segment Yaris and C segment Corolla. I’m not sure if it’s fundamentally any more “unfair” to compare it to the Civic/Corolla as it is to compare it to the Fit/Yaris; it’s not an exact match either way, and with rear set legroom being the most noticeable difference, I suspect they’ll be heavily cross shopped.

  • avatar

    So let me get this straight, TTAC is accusing this other blog of being a shill for Ford? Wow.

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    Excellent journalism.

  • avatar

    Also, here comes the Mazda 2

  • avatar

    Edward nailed it – this is comparison is irrelevant at best and suspiciously selective at worst. For all that’s been said about lack of awesomeness, I still enjoy reading Jalopnik but this was not one of their finer moments.

  • avatar
    George B

    I don’t think the comparison is that bad. The Fiesta has the less dorky looks and refinement to compete at a higher price point than the Aveo or the Yaris. The Fit is a closer comparison, but I think the Fiesta is more attractive. The comparison also shows diminishing returns on highway fuel economy for the small cars. Relatively poor aerodynamics from the tall profile and fewer gear ratios hurt highway mileage more than small size and lighter weight help. End result is longer, lower C segment cars like the Civic can achieve excellent fuel economy, room for adult passengers, and better visual proportions than their dwarf B segment relatives. For areas where nobody parallel parks and highway travel is common, the stubby B segment cars don’t make much sense.

  • avatar

    A base Fiesta doesn’t have a CD player?? O_o

    Welcome back to 1998…

  • avatar

    How can a car “dominate” a segment when the automaker forgot something so basic and elementary as an armrest?

    Ford needs to take another swing through Car Design 101. If they went the cheap route on something so blatantly obvious…it really makes you wonder what else they “bean counted”.

    • 0 avatar

      I wondered the same thing when I first saw the interior photos, and it worried me a bit. Then, the next morning driving my car to work, I realized I didn’t even use the center console armrest, my natural driving position was just to wrap my right arm behind the back of the passenger seat.

      Sitting in the Fiesta you don’t really miss the armrest. It’s odd, but in large cars, you need the armrest, you miss it if it isn’t there. In the Fiesta, my right arm fell naturally and comfortably to the side of the driver’s seat. If I hadn’t thought about the lack of the armrest I don’t think I would have ever noticed it.

    • 0 avatar

      Still it should be there. Too me…that shows cheapness…and lack of basic design skills.

      I use armrests in all the cars I drive. The 1991 Escort that I had in high school didn’t have one and it was severely missed. Everything since then has had some sort of arm support for the drivers right arm.

      As I said before, if Ford took the cheap route on a simple arm rest…what other glaring omissions did they try to weasel by?

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