Are American Cars Now the Smallest in the World?

Remember back in the eighties and nineties when passenger vehicles kept getting bigger and bigger? Consumers were trading in their midsize sedans for sport utility vehicles, minivans, and even extended-cab pickup trucks. Automakers were falling all over themselves trying to increase the size of their product offerings.


Don’t laugh – the luxury model is even bigger.

And then there’s today, where the cars on U.S. roads seem to be getting smaller. More and more Americans are opting for small cars rather than sedans, light trucks, or apartments-on-wheels. In fact, forecasting firm J.D. Power and Associates predicts that small cars could outsell midsize models this year. This is astounding given that over a quarter million more midsize cars than small cars were sold in the U.S. just five years ago. In contrast, J.D. Power predicts that small car sales will outpace purchases of their midsize counterparts by a 20% to 14% margin in 2015.

Why the sudden surge in popularity for smaller cars? The answer is a common one in America: money.


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Gasoline prices are substantially higher nowadays than they were in past decades. As a result, people are eschewing the good ol’ American gas-guzzlers in favor of more fuel-efficient vehicles. That means cars that are smaller in size, and many of them are equipped with electric or hybrid technology.

But it’s not just about what fuels these cars; it’s the cars themselves. Generally speaking, the smaller the car, the lower the sticker price (and the auto insurance premium) will be. And with millions of Americans either out of work or living paycheck to paycheck, buying a lower-priced (new or used) vehicle is one way to pinch pennies and stretch their dollar further.

In addition, automakers are producing more smaller cars for reasons other than consumer demand. Companies who manufacture cars in the U.S. have agreed to increase the average fuel efficiency of their overall product lines by 100% by 2025. And one tried-and-true way to boost MPG numbers is to shrink the actual size of the vehicles.


Some of them even hired Rick Moranis as a consultant.

Finally, there’s evidence that this metamorphosis into a "smaller car" society is being driven by more than just economic necessity. The dirty little secret is that a large number of consumers actually like small cars today more than they have in the past. For one thing, many small sized-models are equipped with the same features, comforts, and accessories that were once only found in their luxury counterparts. Also, today’s small cars are actually bigger than those in years gone by. For instance, the 2012 Ford Focus is about five inches wider and eight inches longer than the Escort, the model that it replaced in Ford’s lineup.

All this adds up to a shrinkage in average size in American cars across the country. It’s safe to say that "small" is the new "big."

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