Americans don't like small cars, right? But the rest of the world does. So how do carmakers, and especially the resurgent Big Three -- General Motors (GM), Ford (F), and Chrysler -- bridge that gap? It's not as hard as it looks. And it could be made easier if gas prices continue to spike this summer.
First off, today's small cars aren't the econoboxes of yesteryear -- you know, lightweight rides that delivered high MPG but little in the way of creature comforts. Once, you were lucky to get beyond hand-cranked windows and an AM/FM radio (forget about air conditioning). Now, features list have grown and performance has greatly improved. Small cars are back, baby.
- Today's small car is basically a big car from 10 years ago. Have you looked at a Toyota (TM) Corolla recently? If you can remember back a decade, you'll note that the current model is a big as an Accord used to be. Even the Yaris, Toyota's smallest set of wheels, is relatively roomy.
- Small cars are now almost luxurious. When Chevy began designing the Cruze, it threw away the book on small cars. The Cruze draws from GM's European experience: in the Old Country, small cars don't compromise. Sure, there are some bare-bones models, But Europeans like some elegant interior appointment. Certain Cruze models have two-tone leather seats!
- Small cars are packed with technology. Tech is pretty size independent, so carmakers are free to cram everything they're got into their downsized chariots. In-dash navigation systems, hard-drive based entertainment systems, in-car communications offerings (such as Ford's SYNC), smartphone integration -- what used to be expected in a luxury sedan is now common in a small four-door.
- Small cars are fun to drive. The econoboxes didn't exactly reward aggressive piloting. The tiny, narrow tires and suspensions tuned like hamster wheels didn't allow for it. But your typical small sedan, especially if there's a sport variant, now handles more like a BMW 3-Series from the 1990s. Add a return to turbocharging from some automakers and you have a formula for relatively dinky 4-cylinder engines transformed into powerplants that crank out something akin to V6 performance.
- Small cars are easy on gas. Well, this one's a no-brainer. Some people buy small cars because they just don't feel right in a larger vehicle. But the majority of customers go for them because they like to fill up less frequently and, when they do, enjoy not having to watch the numbers on the pump spin past $100.
- Small cars limit your loads. We've gotten accustomed to making buying decisions not based on hauling around our own immediate family, but the families of... other families! A small car gives you the ideal excuse when you're confronting the prospect of transporting seven eight-year-olds from school to soccer every day. Oh, and small cars limit your debt load, too -- many sell for less than $20,000.
- Small cars are cheaper to maintain. Don't want to spend $1,000 for a set of new tires? Apprehensive about the bills that your mechanic will charge you to service a high-revving V8? Small cars offer abundant savings opportunities, starting with their nearly bulletproof small displacement engines, which rarely need much more than a oil change every 3,000 miles and a timing-belt replacement at 100,000.