Small Cars Grow in Popularity

Small cars
Compact and subcompact cars are booming in popularity and could become the best-selling vehicle category by year's end, according to J.D. Power and Associates.

This would push midsize sedans from their prominent position as the American car of choice. Midsize sedans have been best-sellers for more than two decades now, according to the Detroit News.

While vehicles like the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima and Honda Accord remain some of the best-selling cars in the country, the category overall is growing more slowly than small cars. Midsized cars are up 7.5% for the year, but small cars are up nearly twice that at 14.3%, according to the Wall Street Journal.

This year, some small car models have topped the monthly best-sellers’ list. The Toyota Corolla was No. 1 in January and Chevrolet Cruze topped the list in June for passenger cars.

Even if small cars don’t beat out midsizers this year, their trajectory is rising faster than that of their bigger brethren. By 2015, small cars should make up about 20% of the market, while midsized cars will only account for 14%, according to J.D. Power.

There are a few forces behind the change in consumer preference: For one, small cars aren’t that small anymore, with many having the same interior space as midsize cars had in the last decade. Second, consumers' desire for more efficient (cheaper) cars has fueled the change. Finally, government-mandated corporate average fuel economy standards are putting pressure on carmakers to build more palatable small cars.

Sales of midsize cars shrink as buyers go smaller (Detroit News)

By Colin Bird | November 28, 2011 | Comments (13)


Derrick G

Someone tell Jeremy Anwyl over at Edmunds this. He keeps insisting that Americans aren't buying smaller cars because they're not interested in fuel economy.


This makes me happy. When I graduate college, regardless of income, I'll be buying a compact/subcompact. I AM interested in fuel economy as I think all Americans should be, it's patriotic.

Smaller cars are just as safe anymore as well.


^^^Small cars will never be as safe as a larger car. More room for the energy to disperse = less energy transferred to the driver. There is no one in the world who can say a Civic is safer than a Malibu. Or on the extreme, a Smart being as safe as a Cruze. Have you seen the crash test videos of the Smart?


As long as you share the road with semis, you will still be driving a smaller vehicle than someone and will lose the battle of physics.
Small cars are great - friends are constantly amazed by what I can fit in my trunk and I can always find a parking space in between 2 SUVs that can't drive.


This is true, but the safety on them is still quite good. Personally, I would not avoid a small car due to crash safety concerns (well, as long as it's not rated 1 star or something.)

That said -- I'm interested in MPG. But, that doesn't mean I'll automatically get a compact or subcompact. The better-MPG midsize models now are ALSO getting close to or exceeding 40MPG! Ford Fusion Hybrid, Toyota Prius. Even a Buick LaCrosse Eassist gets 36MPG -- compared to 40MPG, that'd burn 2.77 gallons per 100 miles instead of 2.5 gallons. The good news -- car companies in the US are at least paying attention to MPG instead of lip service -- mileage has gone up significantly the last year or two. The bad news -- they are still working harder on raising MPG of midsized cars (and god forbid, SUVs) than compacts, so there's 35-40MPG midsized vehicles, but the compacts are also at about 40MPG instead of 50+MPG.

If I lived somewhere where streetparking was at a premium, a compact would be a no brainer. I've gone past dozens and dozens of parking spaces where a compact would have pulled right in, my Buick was just a bit too long (also it has a ridiculously wide turning radius.)


Small cars are safer for other road users due to lower mass (lower kinetic energy and lower momentum). They also leave more roadway space for maneuvering. From a public safety perspective, any increase in danger to the user of the small car is usually more than made up for by reduced danger to everyone else.


For Tim- While I'll never say a civic is the safest car on the road many small cars are built with 5 star safty rating, like my corolla. For them it's not mass but tricks in deflecting force such as crumple zones whcih divert the energy you're talking about around the passenger compartment. In many ways it's larger vehicles which are built on the it's big therefore durable standard and suffer worse in safety ratings. Though you are right about the SMART car.


In regards to safety... While a small car more than likely not be quite as safe as a midsize car, there is a key point that many of you are missing. Small cars are typically more nimble and have better braking distances. These are things that can help you AVOID a crash. It isn't just about how to take a hit, but how to avoid one.


Honda used the correct color turn signals on the last generation Civic coupe from day one.
The Civic sedan corrected Honda flaw during the mid-cycle refresh.

Red turn signals are unsafe. The Malibu doesn't even have dedicated red turn signals. It is a complete joke.


"Small cars will never be as safe as a larger car."

Not true, outside of what has already been stated, small cars are often safer in single car accidents versus larger vehicles. In those types of accidents, all that mass is working against you. Case in point was the old Mini Cooper versus last-gen F150 in single car accidents (such as versus a tree, wall, or post). The Mini was *much* safer in those types of accidents.

And while you could argue that those accidents are often avoidable, you only need a patch of black ice or having to avoid a worse accident to encounter this situation.

And on the whole as others have indicated, lowering the average mass of all road going vehicles will make us safer as a whole.


I say they just lower the gas prices! Newer cars are much more cleaner burning. I do not want to drive a chair on wheels. Bring back large cars such as the Chevy Caprice and Cadillac Brougham!!


I agree with George about the brake light lens color and dedicated lights for turn signals, I never understood why American car designers can't see the safety advantage in a dedicated yellow turn signal.

With so many cars on the roads and so many distracted drivers we need every safety advantage we can get.

Ginter Vurlicer

I like driving my 24 year old Honda Civic (with 42 MPG) usually UNDER the speed Limit (65 vs. 75 "traffic" on 70 mph limit Interstates) but I hate drivers of 18 wheelers, pick-up trucks, SUVs, etc. who think I am an inconvenience to them and don't show me respect by keeping back the proper following distance, at least one care length per every 10 mph -- it's the LAW. There is plenty of time to pass on limited access four lane Interstates. It makes no sense to be on somebody's bumper before swerving at the last second into the passing lane, but even 18 wheelers do it.

I think once we get away from the obsession with speed and power and all the silly ego tied up with one's "more expensive, more luxurious, and more powerful and faster that everyone else's vehicle" we might put some sanity and mutual respect out on the highways and make getting there safely, regardless of the vehicle or sped, our collective number one priority.

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