QOTD: Thinking Small Again?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
qotd thinking small again

If the global economy were weather, yesterday brought dark clouds, an unsettling calm, and that weird ozone smell that heralds a violent storm. The bond market is waving its hands and flashing a warning sign. Spooked traders waded through a sea of red as Wall Street and other foreign exchanges began resembling the elevator scene in The Shining.

It’s quite possible all those warnings issued by major automakers of a looming recession weren’t made out of an abundance of caution, but something a little more concrete. No wonder the likes of Ford and General Motors find themselves in the midst of “downturn planning.”

As you read yesterday, one possible consequence of another economic meltdown is a return of smaller, more affordable vehicles — products both Ford, GM, and Fiat Chrysler spent the last few years dropping from their lineups. While the entirety of these small vehicles wouldn’t return in such a scenario, some might. Which cars deserve a green light?

In this exercise, we’re looking at recently cancelled domestic models that remain in service elsewhere in the world, as FCA isn’t likely to triumphantly return the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200 on the off-chance that Americans might like them this time around.

However, the Ford Focus and Fiesta remain in production on the other side of the Atlantic, and in dressy new duds, too. While the Chevrolet Sonic somehow still remains in production in Michigan, GM sent the larger Cruze packing from plants in Ohio and Mexico, leaving the model alone in China and Latin America. It’s unlikely a recession would compel GM to restart a mothballed American plant it hoped to offload during good economic times.

So, should things take a dive, import opportunities exist to bring some of these lost models back to our shores, assuming the preferred solution isn’t a quick reversal of recent Mexican plant allocations.

Many Americans will hold on to their present vehicle if the economic shit hits the fan; others might find themselves at the end of a lease and without the ability to (or desire) to get into something quite so opulent. Younger buyers with dodgy credit might not have the ability to cover the payments on a $25,000 compact CUV and will go on the hunt for a cheaper alternative. Nissan, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, and Toyota will be there, arms spread, waiting to embrace their new customers.

Over to you, B&B. Should the world plunge into turmoil once again, which recently discontinued American small cars would you want to see return to a dealer near you?

[Image: Fiord of Europe]

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  • 80Cadillac 80Cadillac on Aug 16, 2019

    I saw my first Jeep Gladiator pickup at the local post office today, parked next to a late '90's S-10 pickup. The new Jeep looked like the egregious H2 Hummers that we used to ridicule, next to the sensibly-sized truck. I miss the scale of the cars from the '80's. These "small" Focus and Cruze and Corolla and Civic are huge cars. The current Civic is miles bigger than the original Accord. One of my favorite cars was an '85 Renault/AMC Alliance with the larger 1.7 engine and 5-speed...very fluid and quiet car, so much more comfortable than my multiple sisters' VW Rabbit diesels. I am known for having owned a bunch of '70's and '80's Cadillac sedans, which people think of as "boats", but the truth is that these cars were "drawn big". They only weighed around 4000 lbs, depending on the year and motor fitted. A lot of these truck-based SUV's these days outweigh a full-sized Cadillac by a ton or more. Another favorite car I owned was a GEO Metro (Suzuki Swift) that I bought new. 1997 model, built in Ingersoll. In the US, it was impossible to find one optioned correctly. So I ordered one from the factory. I specified the 4-door body, and the 1.3 liter 4-cylinder with 73 HP. I deleted the AC, and the power steering, and spec'ced a 5-speed. The motor had one tiny belt, to drive the alternator. I could service the car on the ground, by simply reaching under the front bumper. I ordered the nicer seat trims, CD stereo, and added a tachometer with the savings from the deleted equipment. 73 HP doesn't sound like much, but it was a delightful car to drive, as it only weighed about 2500 lbs. And I routinely saw 55 MPG. The worst ever observed mileage was 38, and that was a tank of city driving during the winter. Another fun small car I owned was a '73 VW/Porsche 914. It was really slow to accelerate, and rode on 155-section tires, but it was so well-balanced, once you were up to speed, you slowed down for nothing, including all the curves here in the NC mountains. I generally dislike Porsche, but the bastard 914 was a French design, so I guess that was the appeal! The passenger space and storage in the front and rear trunks was ample, as well. Don't get me started on folding my 5'8", 120 lb body into a Lotus Elise that a friend recently bought. I drive a SWB Envoy Atlas I6 these days, as I tow a lot of light trailers. It's about perfect, but I liked the narrow dimension of the S-10 Blazer that it replaced. I wish that our US makers would go for a truly global small car...like the Renault/Dacia Logan or the FIAT Palio. Basic, square little sedans and wagons. I truly want to like the KIA and Hyundai offerings, but they smell bad and are uncomfortable and are really loud and rough-riding. The truly small cars that the Japanese excel at are not even offered in the US. The huge "mid-sized" pickups offered in the US are too big to be practical. The bed sides are too high to even lift anything over. I guess that's why the newer Colorados etc incorporate the bumper step. Anyone remember putting something "down" into the bed of a compact pickup? One sister of mine has a newer F150 extended cab, and it is more difficult to drive that truck alone than my Envoy *with a travel trailer*. Which automaker will finally find a marketing success by producing and advertising a smaller vehicle? I can't predict it, but surely it will happen...I don't think that North American vehicles can get much bigger without changing all of the roads.

  • Jeff S Jeff S on Aug 16, 2019

    Compact and subcompact EV cars might be the next big thing as commuter vehicles if the price comes down to where they are competitive. Commuting back and forth to work and short suburban trips particularly where there is not a lot of parking and where there are smaller parking spaces. I can see GM and Ford coming back into the small sedan market with EVs and adding small crossovers with EVs. Get the batteries lighter, smaller, and less expensive could give smaller cars a boost in sales.

  • 3SpeedAutomatic Drove a rental Cherokee for several days at the beginning of this year. Since the inventory of rental cars is still low, this was a 2020 model with 48k miles and V6. Ran fine, no gremlins, graphics display was easy to work, plenty of power, & very comfortable. Someone must of disarmed the lane assistance feature for the steering wheel never shook (YES!!!!!!!!). However, this woman's voice kept nagging me about the speed limit (what's new!?!?!?!).I was impressed enough to consider this a prime candidate to replace my 11 yr old Ford Escape. Might get a good deal with the close out of the model. Time will tell. 🚗🚗🚗
  • Bullnuke One wonders if this poor woman entered the US through Roxham Road...
  • Johnds Years ago I pulled over a vehicle from either Manitoba or Ontario in North Dakota for speeding. The license plates and drivers license did not come up on my dispatchers computer. The only option was to call their government. Being that it was 2 am, that wasn’t possible so they were given a warning.
  • BEPLA My own theory/question on the Mark VI:Had Lincoln used the longer sedan wheelbase on the coupe - by leaning the windshield back and pushing the dashboard & steering wheel rearward a bit - not built a sedan - and engineered the car for frameless side windows (those framed windows are clunky, look cheap, and add too many vertical lines in comparison to the previous Marks) - Would the VI have remained an attractive, aspirational object of desire?
  • VoGhost Another ICEbox? Pass. Where are you going to fill your oil addiction when all the gas stations disappear for lack of demand? I want a pickup that I can actually use for a few decades.