By on August 15, 2019

2018 Ford Europe Fiesta range - Image: Ford

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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63 Comments on “QOTD: Thinking Small Again?...”


  • avatar
    danio3834

    Small cars (ie. sedans and hatchbacks) aren’t coming back. Automakers that occupy large market-share in those segments will try and keep a grip and keep profitability. Cheaper alternatives will be de-contented crossover architectures (anything that can be classified as or shares the majority of it’s parts with something that is classified by the EPA as a light truck.)

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      @danio: I disagree. Very probably we will see a hike in fuel prices in such a recession just so the oil companies can retain their profits. As such, smaller, lighter and more aerodynamic vehicles will come to the fore, especially if their price tag lies near or below the $20,000 mark. The value of used compact cars will skyrocket while the value of big trucks with poor fuel mileage will fall through the floor. And diesels, despite their decent fuel mileage, will be hurt as well, since diesel in the US is almost as expensive as Premium. This has already happened at least twice in the last 20-25 years.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    I hope that they will not reduce the cost by offering tiny cars, but that they will decontent cars like the Impala, Fusion, or even the Charger. Toning down the interiors, infotainment, and equipment will do more to reduce sticker price than just going smaller. Getting rid of the electronic nannies will save a lot, too, and force drivers to pay attention to what they’re doing.

    • 0 avatar
      cprescott

      I have no use for highly contented vehicles. A small car with a manual transmission and a radio along with air conditioning is all I need. If power windows and locks are added, I’m fine, but I need none of that electronic distraction garbage that is finding its way onto ever product. Since what I like is no longer really being made, I am so glad I bought my 2016 Hyundai Elantra that has some things I don’t need but is as basic a car as you can get and it performs admirably, is roomy, is quiet, and is super fuel efficient.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      The future of mainstream small cars is small crossovers. Many of them will lose AWD for fuel economy reasons, and they will functionally be the same as slightly heavier small hatches, but the market has overwhelmingly told us it wants higher ride height.

      But economic collapse doesn’t mean small cars. In the event of economic collapse, we’ll see manufacturers reducing capital investment – keeping what they have for longer, and maybe decontenting it to reduce prices a bit.

      What would force active investment in small cars (meaning small, non-AWD crossovers) is a spike in gas prices. That’s inevitable in the very long run but there’s no reason for it to happen now, and the downturn will postpone it a bit.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @dal20402: “and they will functionally be the same as slightly heavier small hatches, but the market has overwhelmingly told us it wants higher ride height.”

        Exactly. Look at the new Toyota XY-Z (or whatever it’s called – the really ugly CR-V competitor) and the Hyundai Kona (not the electric one, but that falls into this category, too). FWD CUVs with no AWD offered. They’re tall station wagons, people…

        20 years ago if you’d told me we’d all be driving around in weird little station wagons that look like the spawn of a Honda Element with a Pontiac Aztek, I’d thought you were nuts.

        As long as I can afford to slide my fat ass into a sedan, I will. I’m afraid there will be none for me to do it with, though.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    You’ll get more EcoSports, TRAX, and the like. Of course I wish the 3 cylinder Euro Fiesta with it’s limited slip would come across the pond. Please bring the 2 door this time as well.

    But you know what they say…want in one hand and crap in the other and see which one fills up first.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I don’t believe small cars will entirely die but compact and subcompact crossovers will continue to take the place of most small cars. I would like to see more vehicles without all the electronic nannies but I don’t see that happen. I would not be surprised to see truck sales slow and compact trucks offered.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Would I like to see the Fiesta and Focus back? Sure, but that’s academic – I’d say Ford pretty much ruined its’ small-car cred with all the transmission issues. I’m afraid that ship has sailed.

    I’m sure GM could coax some Cruzes out of its’ plants in Mexico if need be. FCA is probably out of the small-car game altogether, unless one counts Fiat (like I said, they’re out of the game).

    But I think the D3 have pretty much ceded the small car market at this point.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    If you lose your job because the economy has gone belly-up the last thing you’ll be thinking about is what kind of car to buy. The only thing that would cause everyone to head for the small car hills is if gas should suddenly jump in price which doesn’t seem part of the scenario

    What I see most likely happening is people holding on to what they have longer until things improve, so the best thing you can do car-wise to prepare for a bad economy is pay off the car you have and sit tight

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Yes. When this happened to me my only thought was where am I going to hide the car so the repo man can’t find it. When that game ran out it became what’s the best 500 dollar crap box I can find so I can keep going on job interviews.

  • avatar
    redapple

    I m in the minority here.
    I liked the Chrysler 200.
    Good looking.
    Nice Size.
    Never have anyone in the backseat.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I liked it too. And I don’t think its’ major problem was the back seat – FCA was going up against the Camry/Accord evil empire, and its’ previous efforts were mainly aimed at Blue Light / 570 FICO shoppers. Chrysler had precisely zero cred in that market to begin with, and got in right as the segment was beginning to bomb.

      Shame, because it wasn’t a bad car at all.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      The back seat space itself wasn’t bad, I’m tall and I could sit back there comfortably. The opening swooped low so tall people had to duck more than usual getting in, but once in space was ample.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      They made entirely adequate rental cars. My major gripe was that stupid rotary transmission selector RIGHT THERE with all the other knobs for the HVAC and radio. I can’t tell you all how many times I grabbed that thing when I was meaning to adjust the heat or the volume. But otherwise, another entirely adequate boring sedan.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    In early 2008 I was working at a tier-1 supplier. GM directed us to drop all work on non-GMT900 platform vehicles. This raised a lot of red flags for us because a sudden fuel price spike, or the arrival of an overdue recession would leave them wholly exposed. You won’t believe what happened next . . .

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      Sounds like a good decisions, the GMT900 was likely the most profitable line under GM, even as the economy collapsed and fuel spiked. People seem to forget that Silverado sales were still very high. No reason to waste resources on minimally profitable small cars.

      • 0 avatar
        Pig_Iron

        I disagree. I believe it was a stupid and arrogant decision which contributed directly to their bankruptcy; leaving them without a portfolio of marketable products through the great recession. It was a classic example of generals always trying to fight the last war. They are not in a good position for the next recession.

  • avatar
    gtem

    I suspect Art is right, it’ll just mean more hateful underpowered mini-CUV things with CVTs, not a return of small sedans and hatchbacks (albeit many of said crossovers are getting closer and closer to regular hatchbacks in terms of ground clearance and non-AWD drivetrains).

    I’ve been reading Allpar about the development of the original Neon and am left quite impressed with how successful the program was at creating a profitable small car that was genuinely very competitive and desirable to consumers. The more recent Dart was a heavily compromised, portly slug by comparison, brought over purely to satisfy bailout requirements IIRC.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I’m having difficulty imagining tastes changing dramatically and folks wanting to switch back to cars from CUVs. The only compelling reason I could think of would be a vastly lower price and with the emphasis on profits these days, I don’t see that happening. Particularly with the domestics.

    FWIW, I think GM was smart to keep the Malibu (and for the time being) the Sonic, as they cover a fair amount of ground. FCA could bring in the Fiat Tipo possibly to shore up it’s line up. Ford, really pooped in the pool. I don’t think the Fiesta (or the Focus getting unintentional blowby) will be a viable nameplate in the USDM ever again. We’re talking about the contemporary version of the Vega or the X-cars. Maybe they can resurrect another heritage name and attach it to a small Euro Ford product again, but they really made a mess of it.

    Also, the Oriental makes will eventually pull out of the small car market here in the USDM. Sedans are on the downhill side of the Bell curve and will be for the forseeable future. They’ve followed all of the other domestic makes’ moves from decontenting to the overpopulation of S/CUVs in their line ups. It’s the only way they will stay relevant in our market here in the US.

  • avatar
    JoeBrick

    NOT THREE-CYLINDER !
    @Geozinger- “Also, the Oriental makes will eventually pull out of the small car market here in the USDM”- Doubtful. American manufacturers are unable/unwilling to make a quality small car, but the Japanese and Korean companies excel at it. Why would they do that ?

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Look at recent history in the last 15-20 years. The highly engineered Japanese cars started decontenting not too long after the US makes did. After that, the S/CUV explosion which they followed, too.

      I believe before long they will *quietly* withdraw small cars, too. Since they’re not as tied to Wall Street as the domestics are, there’s no need to shout about it. There’s no need to impress Wall Street so they can do it under the radar.

      It’s a matter of demand, not supply. Here in the States, we are RUNNING AWAY from cars, as fast as our fat asses can. I’ve said this before, that the Japanese and Korean makes in the US are doubling down on small cars (because outside of Toyota), no one has the depth in light trucks as the US makes do.

      In addition, being the last man standing in a contest like this is just watching the returns diminish constantly. It doesn’t change the inevitable, just delays it. Maybe they’ll make some money for a while, but then opportunity cost sinks in…

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        @geozinger: Your argument is illogical because you’re thinking like an American; both Asia and Europe have a need for truly small cars simply because anything larger won’t fit on some of their roads and congestion tends to be much, much heavier because the streets can’t be rebuilt to improve traffic flow. Tiny cars are more agile and simply don’t take up as much space–of which in the US we have an excess everywhere BUT in the big cities.

        Sure, the other brands may withdraw their smaller cars from the US but I highly doubt they will withdraw them from markets where they hold the premium simply because they are smaller.

        • 0 avatar
          geozinger

          @Vulpine: True, I am thinking like a US citizen, because I am one, and I was pretty sure we were addressing the US market in the articles and the responses. I mention conditions here in the US several times in my posts, so I’m a bit confused as to why you thought my comments were addressing worldwide conditions.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        They may sell fewer small cars in the US, but they certainly aren’t going to stop engineering them. And once they’ve engineered them, why not sell them?

        This is a typical street in Toyota’s and Honda’s home market:

        https://goo.gl/maps/9SDMqkrdiXQnbNQY7

        Ain’t no one gonna drive a fata$s Explorer there.

        • 0 avatar
          geozinger

          @dal: I’m sure they will continue to engineer them, but if they can’t make money on them here in the US, why bother selling them?

          That’s a narrow sidewalk, for sure. I agree no one will take a Explorer down that path. On the other hand no one would take a Kei car from Chicago to Des Moines, Iowa, either. Horses for courses and all that…

        • 0 avatar
          jack4x

          One could just as easily ask why Ford engineered a next generation of Focus and Fiesta for overseas markets but didn’t sell them here.

  • avatar
    Peter Gazis

    What a bunch of B.S.
    1. the Yen is a very strong currency right now. Making it very expensive to import vehicles from Japan. The Korean won is weak. Companies that build vehicles in Korea are Hyundai, KIA and (wait for it) GM.

    2. With the word economy going down the tubes, Gas prices won’t be going up. Giving people less of a reason to give up their big vehicles.

    3. Nissan will not keep subsidizing Mitsubishi. BMW will not keep subsidizing Mini. smart is already dead.

    4. MAGA

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    GM still makes the Sonic in the US, yes. But the automakers can’t just “turn a knob” and raise production. This is not 1965, when Ford could belatedly make 500,000 Mustangs when they planned for 200,000.

    Back then, car plants were bigger and not really automated. Now they are. Automakers plan for X cars an hour, and use automation to produce those units for as little as possible. Adding volume is not really feasible.

    As for the Cruze, recall that GM ‘closed’ two plants on ‘stand-by’ during the bankruptcy: the old Saturn plant, and the Orion plant. They were reopened. It would make a lot more sense for GM to restart Cruze production in Lordstown, if it comes to that, than to retool another plant to build them.

    I would not be surprised if that happens…GM leaves Lordstown in “idle but not closed” status to help placate the UAW…and in the end, reopens it to make Cruzes if consumer tastes change.

    Pig Iron’s comment is interesting…in August 2008, as gas hit $4 per gallon, or was in short supply (at least in Tennessee), GM’s Cobalt inventory evaporated, and GM was caught flat-footed trying to…raise production of Cobalts. Which is hard to do in any modern plant.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      GM’s decision to shutter Cruze production and Ford’s to shutter Focus in the US in spite of reasonably good volumes is telling about the cost structure of those vehicles. It certainly didn’t hurt profits.

      Transaction prices would have to rise substantially on those cars, and that just isn’t likely. They ain’t comin’ back.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        “Transaction prices would have to rise substantially on those cars, and that just isn’t likely. They ain’t comin’ back.”

        To my post above about the Neon, how was Chrysler back in the 90s able to bring a competitive compact with good margins to the market back then but not now? What changed?

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Were the margins on the Neon really that good? If they were, it was because the thing was bean-counted and cheaped-out.

          Different times…people would accept a car that didn’t have opening rear windows in 1994, but they won’t today.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            Wait what’s the thing with non-opening rear windows… on the coupe maybe? What they were better known for is poor window seals on the frameless window glass.

            Allpar is certainly not an unbiased source, but apparently the design team met the goals set out at the beginning of the program which had quite high margins in mind. Granted, apparently Eaton taking over as CEO had them pursue every last penny even more aggressively, leading to the head gasket fiasco on the first few model years before they upgraded to proper multi-layer steel, as well as the exhaust ‘donut.’

            1st gens are generally panned for a lot of road noise and admittedly chintzy interior plastics, but the powertrain (especially when comparing base motors) blew everyone else into the weeds, handling/steering was well above par, very roomy. It was a domestic compact that actually sold for MSRP for once, again, this is me parroting Allpar.

          • 0 avatar
            ponchoman49

            The Neon’s powertrain sure did blow things out of the water. Chunks of molten pistons and bearings in the case of my co-workers 1995 green sedan. And to add insult to injury the transaxle went 6 months later after having shelled out 2500 bucks to get the engine swapped out with a used unit from the junk yard. That car swore him off Chrysler for good to this day and I was glad the day he finally traded that pile in saving me from numerous roadside rescues.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            LOL, gtem…my memory didn’t serve me well on the rear windows. They *did* open, but with cranks only – even if the car had power front windows.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            ponchoman I can’t help but wonder if your coworker ignored a blown HG overheating condition to the point of throwing a rod… not to excuse Chrysler for that, but still.

          • 0 avatar
            geozinger

            @gtem: I loved the first gen Neon. IMO, it was the best car you could get at the rental counter. That’s not meant to be an insult, either. They were that nice for a small, inexpensive car.

            I think by the MCE in 1998 they had conquered the head gasket issues, but the crash worthiness and the general cheapness was never rectified. Not that many cars were a lot better in the crash worthiness area anyway.

            I wouldn’t mind having one now. It would be a fun little sled.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            geo we’ll see how competitive our well worn ’98 R/T sedan is at the local paved oval once it’s sorted. It’ll be running against some stiff competition in the form of some classic double wishbone Honda products. On paper the Neon is strong on power/weight and has a good suspension setup to work with, we just need to make sure it’s well sorted mechanically and fool-proofed against oil starvation.

          • 0 avatar
            geozinger

            @gtem: Oh man, I love paved oval! Me and a buddy of mine did some back in the 80’s. We had a built 440 Chrysler motor that we stuck into several Mopar B and C bodies for the showroom stock series. We usually were in the top ten every year. But, I got married and he had other distractions, so we quit racing together.

            That twin cam should do a fine job on the track. Those were way more fun as a brand new car than they should have been. I was sorry to see Daimler crush them under their thumb…

            Which track are you at? Do they film their races for YouTube?

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          The landscape is different now than it was when. There’s more compression in that space due to increased competition, and comparably higher costs in order to meet regulatory compliance in GHG/CAFE and safety.

          A major factor is the footprint adjustment that was added to the CAFE rules since 2011. It effectively scales up the bar smaller cars must achieve without incurring penalties. In many cases, the available margin can’t support the technological investment needed to get those cars over the bar.

          Cars get repackaged as crossovers, many or most of which can be classified as light trucks and the business case is much better.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I think there will always be room for small cars but I don’t see them in the numbers that they were during their heyday. If they do continue to offer small cars I believe they will be in the form of CVT and turbo I3s as standard equipment. Much less expensive to make those items standard even though many of us don’t like either. I wouldn’t mind CVTs if they made them more reliable but I prefer manuals and non turbo engines but as many have stated before that the automakers are not as interested in the auto enthusiasts–more interested in those who view vehicles as appliances.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I would like to see the Dart return as an EV. That beautiful shape needed a diet, but its drivetrains were stinkers. It has the good looks to compete with the Model 3.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Was it Iaccoca or HFII who said: “Small cars = small profits.”

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    The current Cruze was a decent compact as long as they kept the 6 speed auto and stick. The diesel and hatch could enjoy renewed popularity if gas jacks back up. The new global Focus would probably be good at Ford sans dry clutch rubbish transmission. I would most like to see the Impala and Fusion stick around. They are everywhere, people seem to really like them and prices could be kept in check with making all the safety nannies optional. My mom loves her 2016 Cruze which is closing in at 50K trouble free miles and says it is the perfect size car for her as an lower cost town commuter. An equivalent CUV would have been 5-6K more, got worse MPG, cost a bit more on insurance and in the case of many of the AWD versions potentially more troublesome. Neither of us really care for the styling of these little stubby cute utes either so there is that.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    Small cars (Focus, Cruze, etc) are not necessarily money losers. But their profit margins are much thinner.

    The cost to engineer, manufacture, and advertise an Expedition is higher than a Focus, but not much higher. Maybe 10-35%

    The transaction price….Is easily double.

    So, your profit margins are better if you just sell trucks.

    It’s all good! Until it’s not.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    Per pound, big BOF trucks and SUVs are cheaper to make than cars!

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Pound for pound, cheaper to make, yes.
      Pound for pound, more expensive to operate. It’s the consumer who will choose what the more economic vehicle will be, not the OEMs.

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    A fresh recession is the best time to get a great deal on “fancy” vehicles languishing on dealer lots.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      I’m waiting on a recession or a real gas spike to scoop up a half ton crew cab to be honest.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        After hurricanes Rita & Katrina tore through the Gulf I got a 2 year old F150 for a little greater than 50% off sticker. Gas was around $4.00 a gallon (unheard of in New Mexico).

        Your patience Gtem will eventually be rewarded.

  • avatar
    st1100boy

    Bring in the new Focus ST, even if it’s built in Europe like the FoRS was. I’ll very likely buy it, even with an inflated MSRP. I love my 2015 FoST, but it will need replacing eventually. The only current car that really works for me as a replacement is the VW GTI. A little choice would be nice.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    It seems sedans are going to turn into a niche, like minivans, where only a few manufacturers participate. Then if you want a sedan you go to the few still in that space and choose from there. More and more my plan to keep the Mazda post lease is solidifying. I occasionally ogle something, but don’t think too far into it. Just last week I thought that it would be interesting to have a Miata, even though I probably don’t fit the demo (31, male, average build) and live in Minnesota. Who knows where my fancy will be next week. Alas, I’ve got tons on time to ultimately decide.

    Is there ever a period where auto makers stop chasing volume for volume’s sake? I remember when GM was constantly battling Toyota to be the big cahoona in the US, then inventory started to rise and discounts had to go up to move stale product. Am I fundamentally misremembering something?

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    I just drove a 2020 Corolla LE recently, one of the things that strikes me is that Toyota is not (and has not) been afraid to make an inexpensive affordable small car. If we don’t have small cars, it’s partly because of a lack of will. To wit and e.g. and all that:

    – Honda is afraid to make a cheap small car and has to tart it up with polarizing design

    – Mazda is incapable of making a cheap small car because they bet the farm on upscale premium

    – Ford just basically gave up and are (implicitly) gonna ride the CAFE light-truck gravy train for as long as they can.

    Which is not to say that I liked the Corolla, but that I was impressed with what went into to making a cheap car feel not terrible at all. To do something, you have to have the will to do it first.

  • avatar
    BWalker82

    At what point does the electric car/hybrid tech. trickle down to the masses? We’ve been building electric motors and batteries for decades. Isn’t it time that technology was more affordable in vehicle applications?

  • avatar
    volvo

    The only downside I see to a small (civic sized) sedan is visibility. When I am parked between an SUV and Minivan or current pickup, in my current full sized car, and want to backup I go very slowly since I cannot see what is approaching until I am clear of the adjacent vehicle.

    Electronics are relatively inexpensive and outfitting such a sedan with appropriate cameras would keep me in a sedan.

    Of course we are still faced with E=MC2 and so in a collision we are faced with that. I am willing to live with less mass as long as I have reasonable visibility.

    So I would say to the builders if you provide appropriate visual aids I will use your product.

    Right now the CUV is the dividing point but i would like to move down to a mid sized sedan if visibility was addressed.

  • avatar
    James Charles

    Small car – small CUV what’s the difference? They both platform share, drivetrain share. If small cars drop off means the burden of development for small vehicles moves to CUVs.

    I really think the first thing is to work out how much transaction costs drop. Then work out which vehicles will be affected the most. It will be pickups and their pickup truck station wagon sisters, then large SUV things and mini vans.

    I would assume many people will down size to save on the costs of buying and fuel.

  • avatar
    volvo

    The difference? About 30% MSRP

  • avatar
    80Cadillac

    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.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    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.


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