Is the U.S. Ready for Minicars?

Tiny cars are big in popularity throughout the world, but the U.S. has been slow to adopt the trend. The Smart first blazed the minicar trail in the States with the 2008 ForTwo, to mediocre success. Will new entries from Fiat, Chevrolet and Scion give the class a popularity boost? If September's sales figures are any indication, yes.

The 2013 Chevrolet Spark, which first went on sale this summer, started off strong with 1,460 sold in July and 2,630 sold in August. September sales have cooled slightly with 2,223 sold. The Spark was initially launched in South Korea in 2009 and went global shortly afterward. According to GM, more than 600,000 have been sold since its debut and it's the best-selling Chevy in India.

Chevrolet spark
At just 144.7 inches long, the four-passenger hatchback is the smallest and cheapest of the bow-tie brand's models at $12,995, including a $750 destination fee. Scion's much smaller iQ, however, has been selling at a more tepid clip. The two-door 120.1-inch hatchback starts at $16,140, including a $755 destination fee, and went on sale at the end of 2011 and has sold 6,872 units so far in 2012. Only 683 were sold last month, but that's up slightly compared with August's 548 units.

The iQ's numbers are weak compared to Toyota's smallest offering, the Yaris: Toyota has sold 23,818 this year. With a lower base price of $15,165, including a $795 destination charge, and lots more room (the hatchback is 153.5 inches), it isn't hard to see why.

But even sales of the unloved ForTwo were up last month. The U.S.'s first minicar has had a tumultuous relationship with consumers and critics —'s editors rated it the worst car of the 2000s — but the ForTwo is gaining in popularity lately. So far this year, Smart has sold 7,311 ForTwos in the U.S., which is significant compared to last year's 3,757 units. September sales specifically were very strong, with 1,030 sold, compared with 469 sold in September 2011. The 106.1-inch two-door hatch starts at $13,240, including a $750 destination charge.

Fiat's compact 500 is another success story. When the 139.6-inch coupe initially went on sale last year, sales were sluggish. Today, they continue to climb. Fiat sold 4,176 units in September of this year, up from last September's 2,773. Its Italian pedigree, affordable prices — it starts at $16,200, including a $700 destination fee — and fun trim levels (a cabriolet model and sport-tuned Abarth version) help widen its appeal.

Looking at the 500's success and the Spark's healthy sales figures and global popularity, it seems like the time is ripe for minicars and U.S. consumers to get acquainted. By looking at the numbers, these small cars are starting to win a tiny place in American's hearts.

Research the 2013 Chevrolet Spark
2012 Scion iQ Review
2013 Smart ForTwo at the 2012 New York Auto Show


Chuck Johnson

I'm all for efficiency and fuel economy, but I value my comfort too. My wife and I are large people. Our Chevy Cobalt is comfortable, although not lavish. We get 35 MPG highway. Moving to a smaller car might save us 50 gallons of gas a year, but at what cost? Our last trip was 6394 miles. I wouldn't have wanted to spend 10 days of driving in a smaller car. The comfort and convenience of a mid sized car trumps the fuel saving of an ultra-compact.


Never! Said it b4 an say it again....I love my Suburban.Hauls the family,dogs and tons of gear safely and comfortably.

Volume Van

Bring it on, but it should be atleast 4 seater wagon type vehicles which uses the fullest space.

People can use it for daily commute and shopping as a 2nd car.


Not everyone in the USA is large or hauls loads of junk or needs space galore. I look forward to this growing segment which will provide more variety like others have been given with larger cars. Let this trend continue.

Volume Van

Small cars have captured 20% of the light duty vehicle market. This is double that of Large Pickups. They will continue to increase if the small CUVs like Countryman, upcoming 500L are included.

Infact smaller wagons have as much space than larger sedans.

Mr Tibbles

Fat Yanks want their Fat Cars while the rest of the world faceplams.

Anonymous Guy

Give me a micro car that has all the luxury features of a midsize-large sedan and I'll buy one. I don't want to compromise on comfort just because I want better efficiency.


I still have the opinion that Americans want less-expensive new vehicles, not necessarily small ones. The Smart, Scion IQ, and Fiat 500 are still too expensive for what they are. The Spark has done initially well because it is priced right.

MiniCars are always an adventure. U.S should be ready to come up with mini cars and so can everyone buy these cars.

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