By on January 21, 2019

2017 Nissan Versa Note - Image: NissanAmerica’s demand for subcompact cars tumbled 26 percent in 2018, yet another result that points to the eventual demise of all but a few B-segment cars.

2018’s sharp drop – equal to roughly 94,000 fewer sales in the core eight-car subcompact category – follows an equally harsh decline in 2017, when the segment lost more than 95,000 units. Led by a sharp reduction in sales of the top-selling Nissan Versa and year-over-year percentage declines of more than 29 per cent for the Chevrolet Sonic, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Toyota Prius C, and Toyota Yaris, the category’s volume has fallen 48 percent since 2014.

And before you say, “Well, cars are all unpopular these days,” keep 2018’s five million-plus car buyers in mind. Car buyers do, in fact, still exist.

But subcompact car buyers are disappearing much, much faster than car buyers at large. And it may well be because the product execution of subcompact cars is really rather poor. 

2018 Kia Rio EX Five-Door profileIn 2014, 6.6 percent of the passenger cars sold in America were subcompacts. That figure is now a tick less than 5 percent. (That means fewer than 1 in 20 American car buyers choose one of the most affordable MSRPs.) Meanwhile, the compact car segment’s share of America’s shrinking car market grew from 27.4 percent in 2014 to 30.5 percent in 2018.

That’s not to say subcompact car buyers are merely migrating to compacts. There’s an exodus from across the passenger car sector that’s causing, for example, Hyundai Accent customers to become Hyundai Kona owners. Those buyers can make the climb up the price ladder to crossovers, in part, by maintaining a vaguely similar monthly payment thanks to increasingly popular longer-term finance arrangements.

(A mid-grade Accent SEL is priced at $18,265, or $6,180 less than a front-wheel-drive Kona SEL. Add a couple of years to the Kona’s term, however, and its monthly payment is only $11 more than the Accent.)U.S. subcompact car market share 2018 - Image: © TTACBut this kind of movement is a common outcome across the entire passenger car market, from Ford Fusion shoppers who become Escape or Edge owners to BMW 3 Series shoppers who become X3 drivers to Audi A8 intenders who end up in a Q8.

Distinguishing the subcompact sector is the degree to which its volume has cratered. There were well in excess of half a million sales in this category only three years ago. At the current rate of decline, there could be fewer than 200,000 in 2019.

Up one segment, there are multiple compacts that individually produce more U.S. volume than that.

With volume in the subcompact segment tumbling below 300,000 units in 2018, the situation is already dire. After all, these cars – Sonics, Fits, Rios, etc. – are known for their low margins at the best of times.2017 Chevrolet SonicThe best of times, of course, are a distant memory. The Chevrolet Sonic, at 20,613 sales in 2018, is down 78 percent from its 2014 peak. In an admittedly challenging year given production difficulties, Honda Fit sales were 56 percent below record pace. Even with a new model and a year-over-year bump, Kia Rio volume in 2018 was still down 48 percent compared with 2012, the last time there was a new Rio. The Nissan Versa has fallen 48 percent over the last three years. Ford experienced a late-in-life Fiesta U.S. sales boost in 2018, but the company nevertheless sold 19,343 fewer Fiestas in 2018 than in 2013.

Beyond the desire for more ride height, an all-wheel-drive option, and semi-rugged styling touches that represent modern tastes, more American car shoppers may also simply be realizing what the overwhelming majority had already determined: subcompacts aren’t worth it.

Fuel economy? The most efficient Honda Fit is rated at 36 miles per gallon overall; no better than the most efficient Honda Civic.

Safety? The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s current Top Safety Pick+ list includes no subcompacts, but it does include the Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, and Subaru Impreza. (The Top Safety Pick list includes even more compacts, but only two subcompacts.)

Space? Predictably, subcompacts are suboptimal.

Dynamics? Typically lacking in power, subcompacts are further let down by less highway stability, harsher impacts on rough pavement, and more road noise.

Price? In a world of extraordinarily cheap leases, it’s hard to make the case for cheap subcompacts that are missing the features, the power, and the refinement of bigger cars when hoped-for perks such as fuel efficiency aren’t part of the package.Toyota Yaris SEAll of this was made abundantly obvious during a three-day stint in a Toyota Yaris hatchback, a courtesy car loaned to me during my Scion FR-S’s valve spring recall fix. Even a seasoned auto journo accustomed to driving a variety of different cars every week can be taken aback.

Not by the lack of elbow room. Not by the excessive NVH. Not by the engine’s protestations when attempting to merge with traffic. Not by the absence of key features such as keyless entry. Not by the car’s unwillingness to hold onto the straightahead position without constant steering correction.

No, any one of those faults, on its own, could be absorbed as an idiosyncrasy. Put them all together, however, and it’s a tale of glaring inadequacy.

To be fair, the current Yaris lift back is by no means the class of the field. Newer subcompacts such as the Rio erase much of the refinement gap, the Nissan Versa Note’s spacious cabin belies its exterior dimensions, and the Fiesta’s on-road behaviour has always made it possible to momentarily forget the little Ford’s position in the Blue Oval lineup.

But on the whole, subcompacts don’t offer owners the kinds of rewards – namely, huge financial savings – necessary to make the cars palatable in the U.S. market. The result, before they disappear from their respective automaker lineups, is a disappearance from America’s driveways.

[Images: Nissan, Chris Tonn/TTAC, General Motors, Toyota]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Driving.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.

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136 Comments on “America’s Subcompact Car Market Is Now Just Half the Size It Was Three Years Ago, and It’s Falling Fast...”


  • avatar
    vvk

    Who can stomach driving around in a tiny light car with all the enormous pickups clogging up America’s roads?

    • 0 avatar
      Rnaboz

      Having owned many small cars (Spitfire, Justy, Rabbit, Xa, MINI) It is easier than you think.

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry

      I had a Honda Fit rental recently. I drove it comfortably 400 miles through Iowa and Wisconsin. I am not sure what your concern is.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      I rather enjoy driving these little buzzbombs around, but as Timothy mentioned, the cost differential between a subcompact and a compact isn’t enough to push many buyers into the smaller segment.

      If you live in a crowded city, a smaller car is easier to deal with, but for the rest of us there’s not much motivation to go this small.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I own one of each and it really is an imaginary issue…just like people that say I can’t park the truck at the mall.

    • 0 avatar
      slap

      I drive a Miata – the big pickups, etc don’t bother me. I just drive it the way I used to ride my motorcycle, staying out of cars blind spots. Which is what you should do no matter how big your vehicle is.

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      I have an E36 BMW sedan and it is only a few inches longer than a Yaris, and a remarkable 10 in shorter than a new Corolla, to give you an idea how much cars have grown over the past two decades!

      I have no issue driving it around, I like the way it’s small and maneuverable and easy to park. It definitely feels smaller relative to other cars than it did when I bought it nearly 20 years ago. For example, my ’15 Accord Sport is about a foot-and-a-half longer than the BMW and much taller and much wider. It dwarfs the BMW when they’re parked next to each other in the garage.

      Personally I think the BMW is easier to drive around in. The fact that it feels more maneuverable and wrapped around me offsets any safety fear I might have from all the oversized vehicles out there now. The Accord is a strong car but the BMW’s size is just better suited for the urban environment I live in.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    Extended term financing likely is driving this flight from our cheapest cars. Trouble is, extended term financing on a quickly depreciating object is dumb. This will not end well for consumers or the industry.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Meh, these aren’t Chevy Citations. Even if you get a 6 or 7 year loan on one there is still several years of likely trouble free life at the end of the loan. Now if you trade it 2 years in to your 7 year note, sure…that’s a problem, but that has always involved taking a bath.

    • 0 avatar
      vehic1

      Exactly. It’s so easy to upsell many buyers with “Only a couple year’s longer financing – and we’ll put you in this here snazzier ride, for the same payment!” Only those absolutely determined to keep down the full cost, can resist.

  • avatar
    Rnaboz

    Having the major players abandon the sub-compact class for CUV’s with their extra profits, I think it is spot ripe for Chinese companies to get in America.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      ” ripe for Chinese companies to get in America.”

      Yes, it is high time for the US to import cheap Chinese cars. We did it in previous eras with the VW Beetle and other European cars, then the Japanese cars, and eventually the South Korean cars.

      Importing cheap Chinese cars to the US is long overdue.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Subcompact cars are so bad people now want Trax and EcoSport and Encore.

    (Finally saw my first EcoSport last week, base model with external spare.)

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Went to a local Ford dealer to test drive a Caravan GT on Saturday, they had a whole line of EcoSports, but hard to sell how hot of sellers they are, I certainly haven’t seen too many on the streets.

      I wasn’t aware that any Ecosports in the US got externally mounted spares?

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I looked up used Ecosports (lower case “s” sport on purpose) in Denver. The supply is pretty amazing given that this car’s only been on the market for a few months.

        Most are ex-rentals. I think that explains a lot.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        BASE trim has an external spare.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Everyone’s gotta have a schtick these days.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            In my area where the side roads are terrible the base might prove popular with the country folk because that spare is full size and very accessible. Popped tires from off-roading (just trying to get home) are still very common on the Colorado Plateau/Navajo Nation.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            I think anyone who buys that car for off-road use has more than one screw loose.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            You don’t understand the abject poverty and the desire by some to have the smallest possible car payment for a NEW car.

            My area was one of the hottest selling areas for the Avenger, Sebring/200, and Patriot when they were in production.

            To illustrate, my secretary – who has an old Grand Cherokee and a couple of old 4×4 trucks rattling around her place told a story about one of the times they were taking a cross country shortcut (dirt/mud) because the main highway was flooded and the Sheriff’s Dept had it shut down. They came to a flooded arroyo and stopped to wait. Traffic was backing up on both sides of the ditch (all people trying to shortcut the shut down highway).

            Finally a woman in an old clapped out Grand Am baja-ed her way through the ditch damn near loosing the car in the process.

            Everyone proceeded to follow her.

            Our car washes have separate stalls for “heavy mud” – this is from people trying to get to and from their houses. Not off-road for fun.

            All of this in a county so poor that we envy Mississippi at times.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            True dat, Dan. Like the old saying goes…poor folks have poor ways.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            Hmm still not seeing anything on US-market EcoSports, looking at cars.com for anything “base” or “s” or any other trim.

            I’m afraid to admit it on this site, but I actually think the EcoSport looks really neat when equipped with its external spare. It looks just like the Diahatsu Terios I drove around Costa Rican jungles on my honeymoon and really had a blast in. Of course, this EcoSport is quite different underneath from the Terios, that had a true 50/50 split transfer case, and a longitudinal engine layout with a solid rear axle that gave it respectable articulation. But even without that, if the EcoSport were at least available with AWD+stick shift, I’ll admit I’d be tempted to at least test drive. I’ve learned with owning a massively capable SUV with oodles of ground clearance, driving a smaller, less capable little trucklet offroad is actually more fun: the lower performance envelope means you don’t have to travel into vehicle-damaging territory to feel like you’ve found something moderately interesting and challenging for the vehicle to tackle.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            @gtem

            Yeah, I dont see what the big deal is with it. Yeah, its cheaply made, its really a 3rd world car being sold in the first world, but for what it is, it isnt that bad. No, I dont particularly like it, and I have no desire to own one, but I would damn sure take one before I took a Versa or Yaris. Dont care that it uses more gas. Dont care that it handles worse because its taller. Still more preferable to me.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            The external spare is a $185 option. I used the build and price function on Ford.com to spec an S with the spare tire rack, the 2.0 liter and AWD. With the $3250 incentive currently offered in my zip code, it would be $19,520 with destination. I still don’t want one, but that isn’t an offensive price for a mini CUV with AWD and a reasonably powerful naturally aspirated engine.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            @Todd

            Ah, that explains it. That’s really cool that they make that available as an option, money well spent IMO. I miss the days of all the mini SUVs and cute utes putting the spare on the back, although as I understand it made accident repair more expensive as the tire and carrier spread the damage out over more area. And I agree, the powertrain (regular auto and a 160hp NA motor) is perhaps the best option that anyone offers in the class.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I had one as a rental. It was not remotely as bad as internet types make it out to be. Just an appliance.

      • 0 avatar
        slap

        It may not be “bad”, but it just isn’t as good as the competition.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          The same people who complain about it also hate the HR-V, Trax and others like it. We get it, you (not “you” in particular) dont like subcompact CUVs, but you’ll defend to the death some terrible cheaply made sedan with a CVT and the driving dynamics of a John Deere tractor. The vehicle isnt selling terribly, maybe the people who are buying it dont care about its faults because it works for them. Again, it isnt my choice (like 99% of other CUVs), but I get why its other people’s choice.

          • 0 avatar
            Luke42

            The 2016 Civic w/ Honda Sensing we bought cost about the same as the Ecosport ($20k negotiated, $22k out the door) and is WAY better for our purposes.

            Why? My wife has a 50-mile each way highway commute, so Honda Sensing + 39MPG + ~10k service interval (as determined by an oil sensor) are all big selling points. The car is always just a little better than I expect, in ways big and small.

            I totally see why someone with different requirements would prefer a small CUV, but the Civic + Honda Sensing is one of the best cars for a monster commute at any price — and it just happens to cost $20k.

            P.S. We cross-shopped the Civic with a $40k Prius (with radar cruise) — but 50% off for almost as good was a compelling argument.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    The value proposition is just not there. What you get for the incremental added cost going from something like a Fit to a Civic is huge. The only real market for subcompact cars is for people who need something as small as possible who aren’t interested in crossovers.

    • 0 avatar
      2004_Z06

      Our DD’s are a 2013 Sonic hatch and 2016 Fit hatch. If you look at the current Civic hatchback, it has that deeply sloping roofline that cuts into the internal volume behind the front seats. Same thing for the Cruze hatch. The subcompact roofs are less sloping, giving more useful volume and utility. It works for us. Having said that, we would have paid more to get more comfortable seats and some soft-touch interior surfaces.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Yep…it is the same as the Midsized truck market only way more difficult to actually turn a profit in.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        That’s exactly what is facing some our our older drivers.

        A long-time retired military friend of mine I play cards with mentioned that he was trying to replace both a sedan and a small pickup truck with one vehicle that he and his wife can use for long-distance Interstate driving.

        So I said, “Why not a midsize 4-door pickup like the GM twins or Tacoma?”

        And he said, “I looked at them but in many cases you can get a four door full-size halfton truck for less money; but I can’t get in and out of those.”

        He and his wife are in their late seventies and both have had hip and knee replacements.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I know this is of little concern to the average car buyer, but the MINI Cooper (hardtop) S handling makes up for a lot of deficiencies in other areas. It’s addictingly fun to drive even though it’s a horrible highway car, small, and the mileage is so-so. But it sure is charming in a weird way.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      My cousin had a Mini Cooper.

      She loved it at first, but she complained bitterly about the reliability and eventually traded it in on a Prius. She’s happy with the Prius.

      Mini Coopers suffer that thing which happens whenever you debadge a German car: the reliability goes to hell when it’s judged by everyday standards. It happened with the first Chrysler Pacifica wagon/CUV, it happened with the Dodge Sprinter vans, and the list goes on.

      Mini Coopers do look like fun. If I’m ever looking for a sporty hobby car, they’d be near the top of the list. But it wouldn’t be my first choice as a DD commuter car.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    The death of the subcompact can be attributed to many things. But I think the product offerings themselves are reason no one is buying them. They are not very good compared to what you can get either used or by moving up the pricing ladder, just a bit.

    Tons of Altimas and Camrys on the rental lot = tons of pre-owned Camrys and Altimas on the dealer lots for the same price or less than the comparable brand new subcompact. A Camry or Altima, even with 40k miles, is still a better car than a Fit, Spark, Fiesta Etal brand new. With the added bonus that no noticeable MPG penalty exists.

    As for the extended term financing. Stop. This will not crater the market in anyway. I do not accept the argument that a brand new Honda Civic or anything else won’t last last 84 months. That is 7 years. You can drive that car for 14 years with no issues. I get the car depreciates, that is what Gap insurance is for on your loan. The car market and the housing market are completely different in terms of the ease of disposing of the repossessed property, one takes a year almost to complete, the other takes a week. Most local credit unions have relationships with dealers near them and the repo’d car is wholesaled very quickly and the loss is usually minimal, or like the large banks the car goes to the auction.
    Now, please do not mistake this for me making the argument that an 84 month loan is a good idea. It is not, for a myriad of reasons but I understand why those that take them, do. I think back to JB’s article he posted here a couple of years ago that was very insightful. The whole you have to be rich to own an old car. If you are of limited funds and need reliable transportation, a 7 year loan on a 2 year old 40k on the odo Camry is not financial suicide.

    • 0 avatar
      Carrera

      Totally agree with 87 Morgan, but I would go a size lower. Why get a new Yaris for 17,000 when you can get a 1 year old Corolla with 9,000 miles for $14,000 ?
      They are both equally reliable so the loss of 1 year warranty isn’t the end of the world.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        “They are both equally reliable so the loss of 1 year warranty isn’t the end of the world.”

        — Are they? I have never, not once, purchased a used car that didn’t require $thousands in repairs in the first year of ownership. That includes one-year-old cars. Oh, my wife got lucky with her Fiat 500 but I have never been that lucky.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          “I have never, not once, purchased a used car that didn’t require $thousands in repairs in the first year of ownership. That includes one-year-old cars. ”

          Rotten bit of luck there, quite atypical these days unless you’re being rebuilt-title scrap.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            Yeah, out of the 120+ cars I’ve owned, all used and all well over 1 year old, only a handful were that troublesome. Actually, only one in particular was as bad as he claimed all his were: 1996 Chrysler Concorde.

            I have had my Taurus for several years. I bought it with 181k and it now has about 247k. I can’t say I’ve spent “thousands” on it, and a lot of the stuff I have spent money on wasn’t necessarily required for it to remain viable transportation. For example, I could have stuck with the 15″ steel wheels, but didnt. Tinted windows wasn’t a necessity, but I wanted them. I could have made do with the old style headlights, but I upgraded to the crystalline units which were $200. I could have lived without a lot of the stuff I’ve done to it, but since I like the car, I chose to spend the money.

            If you’re choosing 1 year old cars that need thousands of dollars in repairs within the first year or so, maybe it’s time to pick better cars.

        • 0 avatar
          slap

          Back when I was starting out I would buy 7+ year old cars and put quite a few miles on them, but never had to put in much repairs the first couple of years of ownership. And those cars were built in the 1970’s, not exactly a high point for car quality.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            My experience with buying used has never been good.

            Back when I was a young Airman in 1965 we didn’t have a lot of money so we HAD to buy used.

            And inevitably every single one of them needed a lot of repair as we put miles on them.

            That’s where I credit my Jr High and High School Auto shop with giving me the knowledge and confidence to do the repair work myself.

            And it also shaped my perception of cars in general, essentially a downward spiral until I bought our first brand-new Japan-built 2008 Highlander Limited AWD.

            WOW! A reliable, dependable and trouble-free vehicle. Who knew!

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “As for the extended term financing. Stop. This will not crater the market in anyway.”

      I disagree with your paragraph here.

      0. Credit markets can tighten, and
      quickly. We’ve seen it happen before. It doesn’t matter how reliable the car is when you can’t get approved for a loan in the first place.
      1. Interest rates fluctuate.
      2. A large volume of repossessions would be bad for basically everything, no matter how easy the actual repossession is.
      3. A *low income* person taking out an 84(!) month loan on a used car with 40k is extremely risky. I’m not saying buy a 20 year old beater outright and fix it in your driveway, but they should absolutely be looking for something cheaper they can finance over a shorter term.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Would “extended term financing” crater the market in and of itself? No. But giving that financing option to unqualified buyers would do the trick.

        I think we’d have to know what percentage of these loans are being made to subprime borrowers.

      • 0 avatar
        87 Morgan

        ajla.
        Credit market tightening will affect future owners looking for extended term financing to get to a payment, not those that already have it.

        yes, interest rates fluctuate. No reason for that to ‘crater’ a market.

        large volumes of repo’s: this actually would help the less well off. My logic as follows: 1. Banks would lose 2-5k per unit. Lets define a lot of repos. 100,000 units? Actual loss of 4k per = $400M in total losses spread out among all the banks in the US. This is just not enough to affect the banking system. Yes, 400m is a lot of me if it were my money. But to WF, Chase, all the Credit unions etc. It is not enough to take down a bank or group of them. The result would be 100k repoed units selling at depressed prices which would then hit the market for someone to scoop up. Rinse and repeat.

        As for the 1 year old used car spend of north of 1k in the first year? How? if it is tires, then that is a known expense not a repair. I buy and sell a lot, though less lately as I like my fleet, and other than having to buy a set of tires, have never had a 1k repair within 12 months. I have bought north of 40 used cars from private parties, dealers, & 1 on eBay (which was private party but sight unseen).

        Yes shorter term is better, zero argument from me. But, if you are making 30k a year and NEED a reliable car and have rent to pay and student loans and and and….an 84 month loan is a necessary reality for a late model 15k reliable (Camry, Corolla, pick your car). Some empathy for the lower income out there.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          “As for the 1 year old used car spend of north of 1k in the first year?”

          Vulpine said that, not me. You’ll have to take that up with him (have fun).

          As for the rest,

          Tightening credit and increasing rates could most definitely “crater” the auto sales market. You are correct though that on an individual level if you already have a low-rate loan and can make the payments then you’ll be alright.

          I don’t expect a high volume of repos would help the less well off because I’d expect that they’re the ones suffering repossession in the the first place. We could go way off into the weeds on this point, but, in the end, I think large groups of people being unable to pay debts is a bad thing for just about everyone.

          On 84 month loans, if that’s what someone *absolutely* must do with no reasonable alternative in sight then go for it. However, and maybe I’m being unfairly cynical here, I’d be surprised if a material number of 84 month loans reflect such a dire situation.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            I don’t think a long-term loan is necessarily a stupid and/or irresponsible idea, as long as a) you buy the right vehicle, b) you spend a few hundred bucks on insurance to keep yourself from getting upside down if you total the car out, and c) you pay more than you have to every month.

            The alternative is leasing, which won’t work for everyone.

            And agreed on the resale value of repos. In mortgage lending, repos – i.e., foreclosures – impact market pricing because real estate appraisals factor foreclosures into a home’s value. That was a huge factor behind the housing crash a few years back – if a house in Subdivision ABC went into foreclosure, it affected the value of all the houses in the area, so the people who were paying on their houses responsibly got f**ked.

            That doesn’t happen with cars. Dealers will try to charge what the market will bear.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      The only plausible issue I see with the long-term financing is how much longer can we carry on with the cheap credit? I mean, if you’re buying now, you’ll be locked in at a decent rate for your ownership term, so you’re fine. But if rates ever do spike, will manufacturers be ready if buyers have to get considerably more price-sensitive?

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Don’t ignore the fact that gasoline prices are dropping again. I have to admit I was wrong when I was so sure prices would rise after the last recession but I have to believe now they’re down in an attempt for the oil companies to keep their ICE customers happy and not migrating over to BEVs.

    • 0 avatar
      2manycars

      The reason people are not migrating en masse to battery electric vehicles has nothing to do with any conspiratorial action by the oil companies, or even dropping fuel prices. It is because BEVs suck. They are much more expensive than conventional vehicles and for many if not most people have many drawbacks. I’d go so far to say that the cheapest ICE subcompact has more overall usability and convenience than the most expensive Tesla.

      Given the choice between a Tesla Model S or a Mitsubishi Mirage I’d choose the Mitsu any day of the week.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        @2many: I wasn’t saying that. I said the oil companies are doing it to fight the onset of the BEV. People who want a BEV will get one… when the OEMs make the body style they want or need. This was somewhat proven by the old EV-1 by GM and later by the Toyota Prius. Even the Nissan Leaf, as the first “practical” BEV available to the general public has proven there are those who will buy electric and by no means are they just trying to send ‘signals’ to others that they are green.

        BEVs are coming and over time they will replace the ICE for all but very specific purposes. Oh, not in ten years and maybe not even in twenty; but BEVs will be the larger market before all that much longer.

        Oh, and given a choice between the two you just mentioned? I’d take the Tesla. Not that I have anything against Mitsubishi as a brand, only that they don’t build anything that interests me in body and style. I owned a CJ-“competitive” Montero back in ’83 and liked it–it was fun and sporty in the off-road sense (though highly unstable on unpaved roads at speed.) What they called the Montero in the later generations was a serious disappointment to me. Mitsubishi has simply become too bland and boring.

      • 0 avatar
        Pete Zaitcev

        The case against electrics is massively overstated. I know a few happy owners of Leafs. Their common trait is, they all have them as second cars. Any problem with the leaf, take the truck to work. Want to travel out of town, take the truck. No problem. But on the upside is the fuel economy, never need to visit a gas station, low maintenance. A Tesla is more of a conspicuous consumption and virtue signaling vehicle, but it’s not the only electric in town.

      • 0 avatar
        thelaine

        2manycars,

        Agreed. Also, oil is cheap because it is abundant, and reserves and supplies are increasing, due to technology. People who are paying attention have known this for years.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Yes, oil’s cheap, and it’s abundant. So are Big Macs. Over-rely on them for sustenance, and you stand a good chance of dying early. People who are paying attention have known this for years.

          • 0 avatar
            thelaine

            Lefties hate to be wrong about doomsday

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            And “righties” like to use words like “lefties” to make themselves feel like brilliant political thinkers.

            (No, we’re not talking about doomsday – just problems created by over-reliance on oil. There are plenty of them, and many have zero to do with global warming. Ask the folks on the Gulf Coast what happens when oil rigs go blooey.)

          • 0 avatar
            thelaine

            Every energy source has tradeoffs. Economics matter. As long as someone else pays the bills, lefties are happy to mandate virtue and ignore cost. Genius is not required, but common sense is. Sorry to trigger you, but leftism is a religion which makes its members believe in magic.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            But FreedMike, my Leaf’s batteries are charged via the 3 reactors at the Browns Ferry Nuclear plant, the newest of which came online in 1976. Certainly the people of Pripiyat and Fukushima might have some warnings on that energy source. And let’s not talk about the countries where the battery raw materials are mined. BEVs have some real issues on that front as well.

            Honestly I think BEVs and ICEs will play nice together for the foreseeable future…probably until a BEV can do everything a subcompact can do AT THE SAME, UNSUBSIDIZED PRICE.

            I got the leaf because it made sense for the intended need (4th car for a teenager) at the given price, it might could replace the third car in my fleet (a Fiesta ST), but take away the fun to drive factor and there would be no third car and a fun to drive electric is going to run way more than 16k and the TCO will still be higher). There is no BEV that can replace my F150s capability and there won’t be one that can do it for 36 grand in the next decade. My wife’s Santa Fe at 23k is maybe a little closer but still not here.

            The short term math is nowhere close. and the long term math still favors the ICE. I won’t get into battery replacement and what not because I really think my model is the outlier and the batteries in newer electrics will Outlast the cars. But even still, they have to get a lot cheaper to make any further inroads.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            “the long term math still favors the ICE. ”

            Exactly!

            But then there are people who buy a BEV or PHEV for “show” or as a third, fourth or fifth vehicle.

            Those people are not worried about any kind of math since their vehicles are their toys.

            And the difference between men and boys is the cost of their toys.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            @thelaine:
            Haters gonna hate, I guess.

            @art:
            I agree, ICE vehicles aren’t going away, even if EVs become a far larger piece of the puzzle. And also agreed, the “sources” of EV energy aren’t 100% clean. But things change, and energy production is one of those things. I’d rather solve that problem than “hey, Miami is becoming one with the Atlantic Ocean.”

            A lot of folks who bag on EVs for “political” reasons – and I use that word in quotation marks because “I hate EVs because ‘lefties’ like them” is just a big, fat bunch of dumb.

          • 0 avatar
            jatz

            “Miami is becoming one with the Atlantic Ocean.”

            Aside from polluting the ocean, where’s the downside to that and could we ensure that LA isn’t left out?

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Troll request politely declined.

          • 0 avatar
            markf

            “Yes, oil’s cheap, and it’s abundant. So are Big Macs. Over-rely on them for sustenance, and you stand a good chance of dying early. People who are paying attention have known this for years.”

            That is about the dumbest comparison ever seen here. So Big Macs fuel the world economy, fluctuate in price and are run by a Middle Eastern cartel. And “relying” on oil for “sustenance” will kill you. Got it.

            So aside from the fact that one powers the wold economy and the other is a cheap hamburger they are exactly the same. Brilliant.

          • 0 avatar
            thelaine

            FreedMike, you are projecting.

          • 0 avatar
            jatz

            “FreedMike, you are projecting.”

            Whatever keeps the weight off.

        • 0 avatar
          vehic1

          Even with some “leaders” doing everything they can to prop up fossil fuels, their religious cult seems to be losing favor with the general public.

          • 0 avatar
            slap

            Plug in sales in the US were 2.1% of the total market. That includes cars that have limited electric range and a gasoline engine. And these vehicles have significant federal and state subsidies.

      • 0 avatar
        carguy67

        “The reason people are not migrating en masse to battery electric vehicles has nothing to do with any conspiratorial action by the oil companies, or even dropping fuel prices. It is because BEVs suck.”

        Don’t disagree, but I’ve always heard that oil prices are determined by speculators; presumably, they’re factoring in odds of a recession lowering demand in the next couple years. Even the ‘experts’ will have conflicting predictions on most days:

        https://oilprice.com/

  • avatar
    TimK

    Widespread (ha ha) obesity has far-reaching effects.

  • avatar
    Carrera

    While these cars are fairly practical, some more than other ( see Honda Fit), there isn’t a very practical reason in USA to own one. I commute 90 miles per day. Why would I get a Yaris when a Corolla for not much more money, offers so much more.
    Now, if I lived in Europe where parking is a nightmare, people have fights at night when they come from work over parking spaces, roads are very tight, yes, the subcompacts are perfect. Every time I go to Europe, I love driving my father in law’s diesel Accent. Great fuel consumption when diesel is $1.80/liter, fits just right on the side streets and I can do crazy maneuvering without ripping the side mirrors off when cars are parked on both side walks and I have to go in between. Anything bigger than the Accent and you have to put a lot of thought in everywhere you go.
    In America, we don’t have any of those issues…yes I know, big cities, NYC..etc..etc..
    Generally speaking, while practical little cars are nice, we don’t have many practical reasons to own them.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      A small car would be practical in any large city where you have tight parking, narrow streets, etc. For the record, I think that describes a whole ton of urban areas not named “New York.”

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        “A small car would be practical in any large city”

        My brother in Manhattan, NYC, NY, found out that other drivers in large cities have no respect for small cars when he owned a Leaf there.

        But those other motorists don’t fvck with him when he drives his old SuperCrew F150, or his wife’s old Camry. Even the infamous taxi drivers keep a respectful distance.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          I also like having a sizeable BOF vehicle when driving in NYC. Sometimes you just can’t dodge a pothole with all the traffic around you, and yes, size gets you respect (that and/or the vehicle being spattered in mud).

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          NYC’s an alternative universe, driving-wise. It’s a s**t show to drive there no matter what you own.

          But if you live in the urban area of a big city, a smaller car comes in handy – smaller footprint, easier to park, easier to manuever, etc. Here in Denver, my new A3 is a WAY better car to take downtown than my old LeSabre. It’s not even close. Same would be true in just about any big city I’ve ever visited.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            Don’t you have access to the Light Rail and Bus system?

            Day-tickets are dirt cheap. Certainly less than driving into downtown, having to find a parking space, then having to pay for the parking and driving back out.

            When we go to the Denver area, as out-of-staters to visit our business operation, we always leave the car parked at the Mineral Station, buy a day-ticket, and jump on/off trains, and on/off buses.

            It allows us to go to the Cheesecake Factory for lunch from wherever we have been.

            Love that system!

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            I do ride the light rail, and you’re right – it’s an excellent system. My daughter used to take it downtown every day to her college, where it let her off right at the campus. I plan to move to the north side of the metro area in the summer, and from there, I’ll be able to take a train through downtown to the tech center, where I work. The station’s about a five minute walk from the office.

            The catch is that it doesn’t go everywhere. I took my girlfriend and the kids to the art museum this weekend, and there isn’t a handy stop from the train to that area. Driving was easier. Once you have to make bus connnections to get from the train to your destination, things get a lot more complicated and time consuming.

            Denver’s a pretty tightly packed city – a lot of the neighborhoods outside downtown have very narrow streets, and limited street parking. Getting around is a LOT easier with a smaller car. Out in the suburbs, it really doesn’t matter, but then again, if you lived on Long Island, you wouldn’t need a “city car” either.

            But I’m convinced that without the train and all the transit, this city would just implode from traffic – there’s just too many people here for the circa-1960 highway system.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      That really depends on the individual’s definition of practical, doesn’t it? For YOU, a sub-compact may not be practical but I personally know a few people who think sub-compact is too big–they drive micro-cars.

      Not everybody thinks, ‘bigger is more practical.’ I chose bigger because nothing smaller is available. Problem is, bigger is too big for me but all I could get that offers an open bed and 5000# of towing capacity when a true compact using a modern drivetrain could do it easily.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      The Fit isn’t practical if any of your commute involves interstate speeds

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      FWIW, I thought the Fiat 500 Turbo (nonAbarth) was okay on the highway. It wasn’t an S-class or anything, but it wasn’t worse than any other “normal” compact vehicle.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    With apologies to the late great Johnnie Cochran…

    If the car’s too small
    It’ll hardly sell at all

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Another important factor: Dealers don’t want to sell subcompacts because they have little margin in them. Add a few options, and you’re within range of the next higher car.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Another reason: if you could transport a contemporary Civic back 20 years, it’d be hailed as the best car in the world. Modern compacts literally do it all – they’re quick, get excellent mileage, have tons of back seat room, and come with all the latest safety features.

    And they cost maybe a couple grand more when you factor in incentives.

    No wonder why subcompacts aren’t selling anymore.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Until I went and grabbed a contemporary Mustang or Corvette and took it back too.

    • 0 avatar
      jalop1991

      @FreedMike: ” if you could transport a contemporary Civic back 20 years, it’d be hailed as the best car in the world.”

      It would be hailed as, “Would you look at the SIZE of the new Accord!”

      Seriously. Look it up.

      I drove many 1979 Civics–best car in the world. The Civic and Accord kept bloating up, so now the Civic is what the Accord was. You want a real Civic? It’s called the Fit.

      And that’s why there needs to be a Fit Si. It’s the true inheritor of what Honda Civic means.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Point taken, jalop, but then again, unless your family is all 5’2″, a circa-’79 Civic (or my old ’85 Si, for that matter) wouldn’t be a very good family car, and it’d get rings run around it by a ’17. You could a family of four on a very pleasant 1,000 mile highway trip in a new Civic quite easily. Would you do that in a ’79 – or a ’79 Accord, for that matter? Wouldn’t be my first choice.

        People who weren’t around back in the day don’t get how capable cars have become these days.

        • 0 avatar
          jalop1991

          Well, but the 79 Civics and Accords DID server a purpose. If you really need to do what you describe, other cars happily did/do that.

          So the new Civic is the size of the old Accord. That doesn’t mean the Fit isn’t a perfectly fine car for many, many people.

          Not every car needs to be/do what you describe. It’s that thinking that makes people buy a big ol’ truck because after all, they pull a camping trailer. Once a year. Except for the last few years, because, well, time just got away from them. But they continue to commute, every day, in their $60K Fx50 Super Lariat Platinum.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        1979 was forty years ago.

  • avatar
    jatz

    Would YOU want YOUR kids out on those roads in a little sh*tbox?

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Anecdotal yet interesting evidence.

    An acquaintance works as purchasing director for one of the major clothing retailers, and has done for many years.

    Among the many decisions a retailer has to make, one of them is to allocate units depending on size for a particular dress/pant/shirt/sweaters/whatever. From S all the way to XXL.

    As such, they keep close statistical studies on the percentage sold each particular size every season.
    He told me that, in the past 20 years, there is a slow but steady trend towards larger and larger clothing sizes. Imperceptible at first, the trend has accelerated.

    This from a retailer who sells tens of millions of pieces of clothing nationwide. The US population is definitively becoming physically larger.

    Could this be one of the reasons for the decline in subcompacts, and the popularity of the large trucks??
    Not the only reason, but one for sure.

    • 0 avatar
      Willyam

      Definitely not wrong. As a little bit of what doctors no longer refer to as “portly”, any time I see a shirt on the rack, I can be assured that the L and XL versions of that shirt are gone. This happens very quickly, I presume. I also don’t like to feel like John Candy in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles attempting to take off his coat in the rental car. I actually prefer small in cars as giant vehicles seem silly, but its an arms race out there.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Since I quit working Dec 31, 2015, I have gained 65 lbs, most of that within the first 24 months, with a waist that went from 40 to 46.

        So I’m not heavily invested in clothes but buy as I go along and need them, generally seeking out Big and Tall stores to match my 6ft+ stature.

        So I completely understand what you guys are saying yet I manage to squeeze my carcass into a 1989 Camry V6, currently the only car I have.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        6 feet tall, 210, and I daily a Fiesta ST. I had to skip the Recaros, but that was as much for the stupid headrest angle than the narrowness of the seat. Plus they were spendy.

        • 0 avatar
          TS020

          @ Art

          I’m 6’4″, 220lb and daily a Fiesta Econetic. No issues with my knees hitting the steering column. I also fit in a Suzuki Cappuccino once. Wouldn’t want to take it on the highway, but in a pinch it works.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I recently did a writeup on a rental Accent. Based on my local dealer’s website, the conclusion of my post was, effectively:

    Yes, the Accent is a pretty decent car, but for $1106 more you can buy an Elantra, which has more room, a bigger engine, AND better EPA ratings.

  • avatar
    mmreeses

    also blame (in addition to everything said above) Uber.

    If money is an issue, why drop $1000 for a down payment on 72-mo loan for a subcompact when you can spend $1000 for the new iPhone (or rent or whatever) and use Uber to go wherever you need to go.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I argue these were never popular in any span of time, they sold on price and mileage. Now since gas is so “cheap” and the eCONomy is so “strong”, proles prefer the SUV because they never learn.

  • avatar
    Derrick Gunter

    It’s interesting to note that the only two subcompacts in the IIHS ratings getting a Top Safety Pick, the Rio and Accent, are the only two that have been tested in the small offset passenger side test and that’s only because Kia tested the Rio itself. Most other companies should be able to do their own tests, but haven’t bothered. I guess they figure it’s such a price-sensitive segment that it’s of no real competitive advantage. Kia did finally drop crank windows, but I suspect that the real reason the Versa is the last one with them is that the Rio’s move to Mexico just make it cost too much as neither the Accent or Forte offer them.

  • avatar
    dusterdude

    I’ve crunched the numbers, and at least in Canada ,compacts are the least expensive class of car to own (IE Civic, Elantra, Mazda 3 etc). The subcompacts may be marginally more fuel efficient, but it is marginal, and there is generally a higher insurance cost attached to them… I agree with the article that CUV’s and SUV’s are popular due to people payment shopping (and being ok with a longer lease or loan terms) I’ve owned CUV’s, minivans , large sedans etc. , but am currently happily driving a compact.

  • avatar

    This breaks my heart. Possibly I’m one of the few, if not only, subcompact enthusiasts out there.

    Almost all my cars have been subcompact; starting with a Geo Metro in high school, a Ford Aspire in college, eventually going through a Subaru Justy, Daihatsu Charade, two Chevy Aveos, and eventually the Chevy Sonic and Spark I have now. I did dip my twos into a size larger, two Hyundai Elantras and a Ford Escort, but came back.

    I’d still prefer a subcompact over anything larger. For just the two of us, it’s all we need. A large back seat is just a waste. They’re easy to park. They’re affordable to purchase. I like basic cars, and these are always the most simple. A manual transmission is more readily available.

    And today’s subcompacts are better than ever; they’re refined, faster than they’ve ever been, more efficient, and well packaged.

    But I know I’m an outsider. An oddball on these things. The buying public is very different. It’s only when fuel prices rise that people even start considering subcompacts again.

    Aside from the image, I can see why they’re doing poorly. Larger cars are almost identical in fuel efficiency, and lease prices are competitive. Whenever I’ve gone to a dealership, salespeople try to persuade me to a larger car but I have to stick to my guns.

    The writing is on the wall, but someone will still have to carry the subcompact torch as there’ll always be some demand

  • avatar
    glennmercer

    A question (and this IS a question, not a conclusion I have already made, which I am disguising as a question):

    How can there simultaneously be “an affordability crisis” (as in, OEMs have raised vehicle prices too high, driving buyers away) and a “collapse in subcompact sales?” If subcompacts are the cheapest thing on offer, and if supposedly the market cannot afford more expensive vehicles, why not buy a subcompact? Or are the erstwhile buyers of these new cars opting for, say, used crossovers?

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Sedans as a whole have been slowly dying off for a few years now. Even taking their slightly larger size than historically, today’s subcompact sedans still have less overall room and less seating comfort than their CUV/SUV cousins that sit taller and carry more cubic footage of cargo and passenger space. Even the Jeep Renegade is a surprisingly popular vehicle for its size and the new Compass, at only 6″ longer, is doing even better. People buying sedans today either have no need for the extra space and want the improved fuel mileage of the lower profile or they wish to be seen as more the executive type than a family person.

      Of course, you can go to the other extreme and spend 4x to 6x as much money for an oversized luxo-barge that is what most modern full-sized pickups have become.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    One fault I find with the clothing analogy is that most of the clothing is made in China and even if you do not gain weight or size you have to go up one size to get the same as the sizes were 20 or 30 years ago. There are no set standards as to what the size is. Case in point my feet have not grown and I still can wear my older shoes which are a 10 1/2 D but I have to buy a size 11 or 12 depending on if the shoes are made in China or India (buy American made Allen Edmonds and the 10 1/2 D still fits). Same with clothing. People have grown but the sizes are not the same as they were 20 or 30 years ago.

    I don’t think it is as much that people cannot fit comfortably in subcompact cars as that for not much more they can get a compact or midsize and the price of gasoline has stabilized. Also full employment helps those who have decent paying jobs to afford a larger vehicle. I could argue that a Chevy Spark is a much nicer car than a 20 year old Civic, Corolla, Cavalier in that it has more features and is safer. You can buy a Spark with wi-fi, standard air, decent stereo with connection to your Apple or Smartphone, and a host of other features that are standard which were optional or didn’t even exist 20 or 30 years ago. I could easily live with a new Spark or Fit but I choose not to. You get a lot of features in any new car, truck, or crossover that you couldn’t get 20 or 30 years ago and if you factor in inflation for a lot less.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Vulpine you are correct you can go overboard and get a full size pickup that is a luxobarge. You don’t have to buy them but that is what is selling. You are also correct that today’s sedans have much less room than their crossover brethren. Sloping coupe like roof lines, small windows, mail slot openings for trunks, and low to the ground make sedans less attractive to most buyers than in the past. For most families sedans don’t work.

  • avatar

    Thinking back to the late early 90’s to the early 2000’s, there was a culling of subcompacts back then too. Fuel prices were stable and jobs were good. Cars like the Festiva, Aspire, 323, Tercel, Charade, Justy, Metro, and Swift all faded into history.

    Ultimately, it ended up being only Toyota (with the Echo) and the bottom rung Koreans (with the Accent and Rio) that held this market.

    It’ll be interesting to see between today’s subcompact players (GM, Toyota, Kia, Hyundai, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Honda), who ends up holding this market. There’ll always be some demand for small cars, and as it was 15 years ago, there’ll still be enough room for two or three contenders. Ford is already out with the Fiesta and things look bleak for the Chevy Sonic and Spark.

    My guess is that Nissan will remain a volume leader with the Versa, and possibly there’s a niche for the Koreans again, the lowly Mirage, and possibly new Chinese contenders?

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Agree I don’t think subcompacts will completely disappear. I wouldn’t mind something like a Sonic or Fit–a 4 door hatchback with a manual. Smaller, more maneuverable, and a blast to drive. I am vehicle poor now having 2 pickups and 1 crossover. I am near retirement and will most likely get rid of at least 1 maybe 2 vehicles.


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