Friday, September 26, 2008

I was right about small cars in the US!

I like to be right... ask anyone who knows me. I'm just sad that it only took $4/gallon to make me right.

I haven't written all that much in this blog, but I've written 3 entries on smaller cars. In December 2005 I wrote that I noticed more people buying small cars. Things were still so bad back then that I pointed out the Yaris and the PT Cruiser as "not too bad." I should have mentioned the excellent Mazda3, but I guess I thought of that more as a sporty car than an economical one (and truth be told, the 3 is not particularly economical for its size, though it's decent for the overall performance it offers.

In July 2006 I'm ashamed to say I said essentially the same thing... prattling mostly about the Yaris and the Prius. I wrote about it last in January 2007, lamenting how slowly the uptake of small cars was going even though there were a few interesting new cars like the Aura from Saturn.

It really did take an extended period of $4/gallon gasoline to either make people realize it wasn't necessary to have a 5500-lb SUV to get most people to work, or for them to finally max out enough credit credit cards for it to be hard to fill up the 30-gallon tank. Being a cynical bastard, I tend to think it's the latter. Ford and GM have still been slow to tap their excellent offering in other markets to fill in the dearth of smaller models in the US market, though they're at least talking about it, and GM brought the Opel/Vauxhall Astra over as the Saturn Astra.

The Saturn has met with slow acceptance in the market... it starts just under $16k and the more compelling XR starting around $17,500 and still offering a rather underwhelming 138 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque. The Civic DX offers 2 more hp, 3 extra lb-ft of torque and 2 mpg better fuel economy city AND highway, for $400 less. Who thought this was a good idea? You have to offer a car with SOME advantage... make it more powerful, or cheaper... GM can't pretend to offer Honda's reputation, even though they've improved vastly in recent years. GM will of course pretend that it's just because Americans don't like hatchbacks, and will ignore the fact that they haven't marketed the car, Saturn dealers largely refuse to deal on price and theh Civic is a better deal.

Maybe Ford will do better when they bring the Fiesta. Make it quicker than the competition, or make it cheaper, or make it more economical, or even a combination of those... the US brands have catching up to do.

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