QOTD: The Last Compact Car Left Alive?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
qotd the last compact car left alive

Continuing sadness. That’s all this writer feels when he gazes at the small car space these days, what with GM culling the Cruze, Ford’s Focus inventory dwindling like SPAM supplies before a hurricane, and the Dodge Dart….well, maybe it’s not all that sad after all.

Meanwhile, departing domestic compact customers aren’t heading over to their foreign competitors in the amount those automakers would like. Honda Civic sales? Down 13.4 percent this year, through the end of November. Toyota’s Corolla, now bolstered by a better hatchback variant? Down 10 percent this year. Hyundai Elantra sales are up, actually, by 4.8 percent, though its volume falls far below that of its Japanese rivals. Nissan Sentra sales are down 3 percent.

So far, the American consumer shows no signs of falling out of love with light trucks of every size and description.

Which brings us to today’s question: with gas prices now trending downwards after an uptick earlier this year, which compact passenger car nameplate will be the last one standing? Changing consumer preferences and market forces could one day leave the new car shopper with no new compact cars to choose from.

This would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, but look where we are now. Fiat Chrysler’s out of the game. And how many Dodge Shadows and Neons did it once sell? Ford’s packed up and left, too. Our streets were awash in Focuses in the previous decade. General Motors roared out of bankruptcy with the high-MPG Cruze — the first GM compact that didn’t suck, according to many — but now faces enough shrinking demand to warrant a death sentence for Lordstown Assembly.

You have to shed a tear for the working class car buyer who’ll soon face fewer options for a cheap car. Still, it’s not as it that buyer doesn’t still have good options. The Civic can be had in three bodystyles and four power flavors. Toyota’s finally getting its ass in gear, bestowing a new, TNGA-platform sedan on us, including a hybrid variant. A new hatch is already on the market, making up for the mediocrity that was the iM.

In this writer’s mind, one of these two nameplates will be the victor (if you can call being the last to die a victory). Volume and name recognition backs up this assertion. You, on the other hand, might have other ideas. Perhaps I’ve got it all wrong — maybe the last compact cars alive will be electric, and they won’t come from traditional automakers. This is a chance for you Tesla Model 3 fans to chime in with predictions of doom and gloom in a marketplace.

Sound off in the comments.

[Image: Honda, General Motors]

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  • Mechimike Mechimike on Dec 04, 2018

    Mazda just releases its brand new 2019 '3' this week, and already it's been forgotten and you all are arguing over Civics, Corollas, and Elantras. The 3 is the better car all around. I drove 'em all, and bought a 2018. Just had a rental Corolla for a recent trip...and was reminded of just how glad I am I didn't go that route.

  • Lightspeed Lightspeed on Dec 04, 2018

    When this generation of Civic arrived, it was astonishing how many were sold so quickly. Overnight the streets became filled with them. Now seeing more Elantras and Fortes, but barely ever see a new Golf. Mind you Alberta is a weird market - Trucks, trucks, trucks, German lease-bait, CUVs and Civics are pretty much the whole market.

    • Stuntmonkey Stuntmonkey on Dec 04, 2018

      > When this generation of Civic arrived, it was astonishing how many were sold so quickly. A few factors for that: - The large number of Honda drivers, dealer and independent mechanics, built in market momentum - At the time, the 170 bhp turbo motor was exciting for a mass market compact and caught on in a way that the Mazda 2.5L never did. - Pricing was competitive for what you were getting - The relative scarcity of the Fit makes the low end Civic a better option for a lot of people - The divergence of the Accord from its historic mission as a family hauler makes the top-trim civics essentially the new Accords of today. So basically the Civic and Corolla will be the last of mainstream mass market compacts, mostly because they can cannibalize other segments within their own respective families. In Canada the Mazda3 does well, but up until now it wasn't space efficient to really be an alternative to a downsizing Mazda6 customer.

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  • 3SpeedAutomatic As a side note, have you looked at a Consumers Report lately? In the past, they would compare 3 or 4 station wagons, or compact SUVs, or sedans per edition. Now, auto reporting is reduced to a report on one single vehicle in the entire edition. I guess CR realized that cars are not as important as they once were.
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  • 3SpeedAutomatic Lots of dynamics here:[list][*]people are creatures of habit, they will stick with one or two web sites, one or two magazines, etc; and will only look at something different if recommended by others[/*][*]Generation Y & Z is not "car crazy" like Baby Boomers. We saw a car as freedom and still do. Today, most youth text or face call, and are focused on their cell phone. Some don't even leave the house with virtual learning[/*][*]New car/truck introductions are passé; COVID knocked a hole in car shows; spectacular vehicle introductions are history.[/*][*]I was in the market for a replacement vehicle, but got scared off by the current used and new prices. I'll wait another 12 to 18 months. By that time, the car I was interested in will be obsolete or no longer available. Therefore, no reason to research till the market calms down. [/*][*]the number of auto related web sites has ballooned in the last 10 to 15 years. However, there are a diminishing number of taps on their servers as the Baby Boomers and Gen X fall off the radar scope. [/*][/list]Based on the above, the whole auto publishing industry (magazine, web sites, catalogs, brochures, etc) is taking a hit. The loss of editors and writers is apparent in all of publishing. This is structural, no way around it.
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