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AutoBlog: REPORT: Consumers increasingly shying away from small cars; owners unhappy

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Filed under: Car Buying

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze - Click above for high-res image gallery

When gas prices spiked above $4 per gallon in the summer of 2008, car buyers appeared to find their small car zen. Toyota Corollas, Honda Fits and Civics, Chevrolet Cobalts and Ford Focuses were flying off dealer shelves at a fevered pace, while truck buying dropped through the floor. Fast-forward to present day and car buyers are once again picking bigger vehicles while many of last year's "smart" small car buyers may be experiencing a bit of buyer's remorse.

A closer look at the current sales charts shows that Americans may not be too keen on small cars after all, as News Chief is reporting that America's compact car market has dropped 15% year over year. Even used small cars are taking a beating, as Kelley Blue Book reportedly told NC that small car residuals have dropped like a stone while larger vehicles are becoming increasingly valuable. In August 2008, truck prices dropped by 17% versus the same point in 2007, but from 2008 to 2009 overall truck sales jumped by 23%.

Perhaps the biggest issue here is that many of the customers who went small in 2008 are now unhappy with their more economical vehicles. George Peterson, president of AutoPacific told NC that a recent survey of 32,000 car buyers showed that customers aren't thrilled with their new small car, quoting customers as saying "'It does what I want, but it doesn't have what I want. It doesn't have the features, the power, the room, and next time I'll opt for a bigger car.'"

The survey showed that 30% of small vehicle buyers would like more power with their next new car or truck, 25% want more cargo room, and 25% want more technology. 18% of those surveyed would like more safety and 22% would like a softer ride. Only half of the subcompact buyers would opt for a compact vehicle with their next purchase, while 35% want a midsized sedan and 18% want a crossover or SUV.

While the Auto Pacific survey results shows that many car buyers are looking away from compacts with their next purchase, automakers are ramping up small car production. New products like the Ford Fiesta and the Chevrolet Cruze are coming Stateside over the next year or two, and if the apparent trend away from small cars continues, automakers will be fighting over a familiarly small group of perspective buyers. Unless, of course, gas prices once again spike into the stratosphere, in which case we're likely to repeat this process again.


Gallery: 2011 Chevy Cruze

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[source: News Chief]

REPORT: Consumers increasingly shying away from small cars; owners unhappy originally appeared on Autoblog on Tue, 06 Oct 2009 19:30:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Duh. Americans will prefer small cars when we all go on diets and have 5 vertebrae surgically removed.

Can we get some larger cars that don't weigh 2 tons now?!? It ain't rocket science.

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Can we get some larger cars that don't weigh 2 tons now?!? It ain't rocket science.

Nope- sorry. Not when the demand for electronic features & the requirement of electronic nannies still runs at a fever pitch. Cars are smaller & more plasticy than ever in history, so it's not the basic structure that's adding weigh, as much as the sound bytes seem to imply.

I laugh when someone goes off on 'cheap steel vs. expensive steel- like this is the bulk of a car's poundage.

'75 BMW 2002 :: 1.9L 4, ovrall lngth : 176", weight : 2450

'05 BMW 325 :: 2.5L 6, ovrall lngth : 176", weight : 3219

One would assume more aluminum is used in the '05, and we KNOW 1000 lbs of former steel is now plastic... so wha happaned ?? :wacko:

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Well duh... these are likely the same morons who ditched their big vehicles, and then spent tons of cash on a new small car, when they would've been money ahead if they just kept their original vehicle.

It still continues to baffle me how irrationally, and impulsively people reacted to gas price surge. Here's their comeuppance, and it serves them right as far as I'm concerned.

Edited by FAPTurbo
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a few years ago i read something that said there is over 200 pounds of WIRING in a typical car.

how much does all the airbags weigh?

i agree with so much of what was said in that article.

still there are some folks that like the virtues of small cars more.

in my situation, more often i have a need for a larger vehicle. but to drive to work every day I could sure love a small car. wait, i'm not working right now. lol

i think if people had enough wealth to afford 3 cars instead of 2, you'd see at least one small car in everyone's driveway.

one of the reasons i love the astra so much is that its a small car yes, but it feels more solid and refined than say a focus (of which i drove for two weeks in 2008 as a rental while my car was getting fixed). So if i got small car, i would find an astra or get a VW something. truthfully, i could even live with a focus or cobalt for a couple years, i like them too. but really all have the deficits mentioned above....lack of power, features. in some fashion.

i look at opel's new astra and its fixed in every way it even won a 2010 comparo on autobild against the 2010 golf. its bigger now, more efficient, more stylsih...perfect car for me! BUT gm isn't gonna have it here apparently. I am sure buick will fk it up in translation or maybe not even offer the hatch i want. GM better offer at least 180hp if it comes here, and pricing better be reasonable. the cruze in order to sell well has to keep prices at kia levels and below. because i don't think the car is going to get fair treatment in the press. the cruze apparently is high on space and function. big cabin, big trunk.

the fiesta and fit look ok but lack hp. hope that doesnt bite em in the ass.

small cars need to offer uplevel engine choices without the big performance package, or at least their price. keep the price down and hp up and the car will be a keeper.

really this just shows why the mid size segment will boom again. they are roomy, yet economical because the weight is kept down to the 3300-3600 range so a 4 banger works. the mpg is almost the same as the smaller cars. the prices are kept low too. people use to need trailblazers, now they will have to settle for fusions and malibus for a few years while their pocketbooks are small.

cheap gas is why the chry 300 / hemi took off so well besides its styling. so the cycle will come around again i think.

Edited by regfootball
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i think if people had enough wealth to afford 3 cars instead of 2, you'd see at least one small car in everyone's driveway.

People don't need more wealth to afford 3 cars... we need to stop the madness of our throw-away society... why the hell do all cars have to be new? A friend of mine has a newish truck because he needs it... but since gas went up, and because people keep wrecking his truck, he decided to get an affordable alternative... someone GAVE him a 100K '94 A-body in mint shape. He's fine with driving an older car, as he has common sense. He also has more money in the bank than most of your average Lexus, BMW and Mercedes owners can dream of... because he's sensible.

The future for most people will involve LESS wealth, not more... and since common sense isn't very common anymore, people are going to have to make wise, well thought out car buying decisions, as it would be unheard of to pick up a 8 year old Cavalier or 3 series as the "small car".

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Duh. Americans will prefer small cars when we all go on diets and have 5 vertebrae surgically removed.

Can we get some larger cars that don't weigh 2 tons now?!? It ain't rocket science.

The average American male is the same height or shorter than the average male in many European countries so the "We're too tall" argument is bull$h!. We're too fat and too stupid to realize that being fat is our own fault, so the lack of interest in small cars by Americans can be attributed to the fact that we're a country of fat dumbasses.

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The Focus, Cobalt, Nitro, and some other small cars aren't very good so I can see how some small car buyers would be unsatisfied. Especially if they bought it out of a knee jerk reaction. But on the other hand, how many Prius, Jetta, Civic, and 3-series owners regret their purchase. Those 4 cars have a pretty loyal customer base.

Small cars still make up a very large portion of the market, the key is for manufacturers to make better ones so consumers aren't unhappy. I agree with Regfootball that midsize sedans is probably where the growth is. With the economy as it is, and people looking to scale back, those that might have spent $33k on a 16 mpg SUV (Trailblazer, Explorer, etc) may now shift to a $25k, 25 mpg sedan like a Fusion.

I also think people will keep cars longer, the average age of vehicles on the road went up over the past year. Which is good, we do have too much of a throw away mentality.

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The Focus, Cobalt, Nitro, and some other small cars aren't very good so I can see how some small car buyers would be unsatisfied. Especially if they bought it out of a knee jerk reaction. But on the other hand, how many Prius, Jetta, Civic, and 3-series owners regret their purchase. Those 4 cars have a pretty loyal customer base.

The article identified unsatisfied buyers of small cars in 2008 having gone from large vehicles. There is no mention of 'types' of vehicles, and if those 4 cars you mention have a pretty loyal customer base, they aren't the people this article is talking about because loyal customers didn't migrate from other large vehicles.

Review the list of items these buyers would like after buying their small car. If most of these items are available on the cars you mentioned, consider that the same cars snatched up under the CARS Program were high sellers and were likely selling at that ratio in 2008. If only half the buyers of small cars stated they would purchase one again, don't you think it's reasonable some of those buyers were of the 'esteemed' cars you mentioned?

Someone slipping vodka in your Kool-aid lately?

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The average American male is the same height or shorter than the average male in many European countries so the "We're too tall" argument is bull$h!. We're too fat and too stupid to realize that being fat is our own fault, so the lack of interest in small cars by Americans can be attributed to the fact that we're a country of fat dumbasses.

People in most European countries don't know any better. They haven't had 100 years of history of large, roomy sedans and SUVs. We have.

Its not about physically fitting into the car. You can cram 15 college coeds into a Mini if you offer them a couple cases of beer... Its about basic comfort and the luxury of room. Small cars don't have it.

Seems kinda stupid to be crammed uncomfortably into a tiny thing that weighs more than a 1967 Chevy going across 7 hours of Texas, with nothing but empty space around you for miles.

In Europe, if your freakishly tall you can fall back on the public transportation for "comfort".

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DUH!!!

Americans just don't like small cars, and no amount of regulation is going to change that. They can be forced into them from time-to-time, but they will never like them.

We will always buy the biggest and best that we can afford, that's just how it is.

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Some Americans like small cars, and should have the choice to buy them. Myself included.

(As I've said before, Cobalt SS/TC, MINI, GTI, et al)

However...my 11 year old son is in boy scouts. Parents of one of the boys in the troup clunked a perfectly good Chrysler Town and Country (NICE shape) and got a Kia. Problem is...He's 6'3 and she's 6'0, their son is tall, and they have an infant daughter in a car seat.

They look so funny getting in and out of that car.

Chris

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The average American male is the same height or shorter than the average male in many European countries so the "We're too tall" argument is bull$h!. We're too fat and too stupid to realize that being fat is our own fault, so the lack of interest in small cars by Americans can be attributed to the fact that we're a country of fat dumbasses.

When I was at the Audi dealership and looking at a few different cars, some guy sat in the A4 that I was going to end up buying later that day (and I had sat in earlier but hadn't made up my mind yet). He got out and said the seat is too small. Lol, what a fat ass.

It's not just America though, the whole world is getting fatter and Europe isn't far behind. It's amazing that considering how focused our society is on "skinny beautiful" people, everyone just lets themselves go.

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I don't think the "fattening of America" has all that much to do with our taste for roomy, powerful cars and trucks. It's been our preference throughout the history of the automobile.

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True.

Which as a car nut is why I want us to have automotive choice.

It would be just as easy for the safety Nazi's to outlaw small cars as it would be for the EPA to outlaw large ones.

It's hard to have social freedom without economic freedom, and that includes the choice of vehicle.

Chris

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I think Satty and Sigen have a point though. Those of you who have met me (6'0 tall, 250 lbs) know I'm not small.

However...picked my teenage daughter up from high school the other day...a lot of familes are strugling to get in and out of Explorers, Quests, Siennas, Town and Country's Escalades, ETC.

You know your a lard but when you have trouble getting in and out of an Escalade.

Chris

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I You know your a lard but when you have trouble getting in and out of an Escalade.

:lol:

Can't argue with that.

I've never been a big guy, and always been somewhat thin, but I get a touch of claustrophobia in some cars.

I like to have some room.

That said, the "rolling living room" isn't really my thing either.

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Like I said 2 years ago...

Going forward, the company with the most small offerings will NOT be the most successful. It'll be the company that figures out how to make large cars (cars americans want) as efficient as small cars.

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People in most European countries don't know any better. They haven't had 100 years of history of large, roomy sedans and SUVs. We have.

Its not about physically fitting into the car. You can cram 15 college coeds into a Mini if you offer them a couple cases of beer... Its about basic comfort and the luxury of room. Small cars don't have it.

Seems kinda stupid to be crammed uncomfortably into a tiny thing that weighs more than a 1967 Chevy going across 7 hours of Texas, with nothing but empty space around you for miles.

In Europe, if your freakishly tall you can fall back on the public transportation for "comfort".

What kind of misinformed comment is this? You do realize they have these mystical SUVs as well as large cars right?

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What kind of misinformed comment is this? You do realize they have these mystical SUVs as well as large cars right?

Oh, there are plenty of Mercedes S-series' and G-wagons... they just give them out of vending machines to anybody, right? Especially in the big cities, where they can park them in deluxe parking spots for free. ;-)

The bottom line is that these are a serious minority... unlike the local Walmart where it sometimes looks like everyone is ready to ford a stream and drive up the side of a cliff.

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Oh, there are plenty of Mercedes S-series' and G-wagons... they just give them out of vending machines to anybody, right? Especially in the big cities, where they can park them in deluxe parking spots for free. ;-)

The bottom line is that these are a serious minority... unlike the local Walmart where it sometimes looks like everyone is ready to ford a stream and drive up the side of a cliff.

True..'larger' SUVs are pretty uncommon in Europe... I've seen relatively quite a few Grand Cherokees, Cherokees, and a few Explorers and Tahoes, and the occasional Land Rovers, Merc SUVs, etc but they are pretty uncommon compared to minivans (MPVs in Europe). MPVs are very common, as are conventional wagons or estates.

Large premium sedans (S-Classes, 7-series, etc) are pretty uncommon also, except in big city business districts and resort areas, I've noticed, and usually always in black or silver.

Edited by Cubical-aka-Moltar
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True..'larger' SUVs are pretty uncommon in Europe... I've seen relatively quite a few Grand Cherokees, Cherokees, and a few Explorers and Tahoes, and the occasional Land Rovers, Merc SUVs, etc but they are pretty uncommon compared to minivans (MPVs in Europe). MPVs are very common, as are conventional wagons or estates.

Fixed a newer GC for a neighbor recently, and I was shocked how cramped it was. Jeeps, LRs and Merc SUVs are historically fairly narrow... which I'm sure make them somewhat more popular on Europe's narrow streets.

The common MPVs and wagons are all on the small side.

Large premium sedans (S-Classes, 7-series, etc) are pretty uncommon also, except in big city business districts and resort areas, I've noticed, and usually always in black or silver.

Popular Limo colors. ;-) The thing is, you can find ANYTHING in Europe if you look hard enough... Musclecars, Aussie Falcons, Lunar Rovers... probably someone has one of those Topkick/CXT monster pickup things.

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Fixed a newer GC for a neighbor recently, and I was shocked how cramped it was. Jeeps, LRs and Merc SUVs are historically fairly narrow... which I'm sure make them somewhat more popular on Europe's narrow streets.

Interesting..never thought of them as particularly narrow..my '00 GC is about 5-6 inches wider than the Explorer or 4Runner of the same year, for instance. The rear leg room is definitely cramped, though, but I don't ride in the back. I really wouldn't want a bigger SUV than a GC or ML.

Popular Limo colors. ;-) The thing is, you can find ANYTHING in Europe if you look hard enough... Musclecars, Aussie Falcons, Lunar Rovers... probably someone has one of those Topkick/CXT monster pickup things.

Ya...also sorts of odd stuff around. Everytime I've been in London, I've seen a few stretched Lincoln limos (Town Cars and Navigators)....they look absurdly out of place there. Possibly the most 'wouldn't expect to see it there' cars were the red late '80s Mustang GT and early '80s Ford F150 pickup I saw in Canterbury, or the late '70s Caprice I saw on the Autostrada outside Naples...

Anyway, back on the original topic...I don't generally like small cars, esp. the cheap and nasty gray plastic interior variety. I think if I ever downgraded to a FWD econobox it would have to be something nicely equipped, solidly built, enjoyable to drive, and w/ a hatchback and manual. Something like a Mini, GTI or diesel Golf. Too bad Ford doesn't offer a diesel hatchback Focus here.

Edited by Cubical-aka-Moltar
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Some Americans like small cars, and should have the choice to buy them. Myself included.

(As I've said before, Cobalt SS/TC, MINI, GTI, et al)

However...my 11 year old son is in boy scouts. Parents of one of the boys in the troup clunked a perfectly good Chrysler Town and Country (NICE shape) and got a Kia. Problem is...He's 6'3 and she's 6'0, their son is tall, and they have an infant daughter in a car seat.

They look so funny getting in and out of that car.

Chris

exactly.

minivans are actually fairly efficient, for their size and overall.

most of them will do 25 on the highway, in town they lack a bit, maybe 16-20.

but some folks if they have 3 kids especially need the room. or if you buy a lot of large stuff like if you want to take chairs home from the furniture store or something.

maybe they are sick of buying gas all the time however. every little bit to cut can help, especially if their kia payment is cheaper than the van. their van maybe needed some work done too and get the new car with warranty might have been a better option than to get it fixed, especially with cars for clunkers.

GM's small cars, at least for the drivers, AStra, CObalt, etc. are quite generous for larger folks. Astra rear seat is very spacious too. VW's offerings are quite commodious, which is good, the prior Jetta was too small in back. Focus is ok. The new Kia Forte is a good sized compact, and I think the Cruze will match it in accomodations.

Edited by regfootball
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I think more are unsatisfied with cheap or poorly made cars, not small cars. It is just that most cheap cars are also small.

In September of the top 20 selling cars, 7 were midsize cars (I counted the Camaro as midsize), 5 were small cars, 3 were compact SUV, 3 were pickups, 1 full size car, 1 midsize SUV.

Note zero minivans, zero full size SUVs, and the only full size car was the heavily fleeted Impala. 15 of the top 20 selling cars are Malibu size or smaller. So are people really shying away from small vehicles?

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