Saturday, May 26, 2007

Small Cars Make a Comeback

A New York Times article explores the resurgence in popularity of small cars.

With gas prices well over $3 a gallon nationwide, many drivers are lining up to buy small cars.
But hundreds of thousands of consumers aren’t giving up anything to downsize. Instead, they are simply adding pint-size transportation to their driveways, parked alongside their S.U.V. or pickup.
In households that own a small car, the family fleet is close to an average of three vehicles, according to CNW Marketing Research, which tracks industry trends (the national average is just over two cars per household; America was a one-car-per-family nation a generation ago).
These growing fleets suggest an approach to conservation that is more addition than subtraction.
“Small cars are like a fashion statement,” said Art Spinella, president of CNW Marketing.
For three small cars — the
Toyota Prius and Corolla and the Honda Civic — more than 500,000 were sold last year as second or third cars in a household, CNW data shows.
Ken Collinsworth, 53, bought a
Toyota Yaris last month for his daughter to take to college this fall. But with gas close to $4 a gallon near his home in Paso Robles, Calif., Mr. Collinsworth has been driving the Yaris instead of his BMW X5 sport utility and GMC Sierra pickup.
“I steal it from her every chance I get,” said Mr. Collinsworth, who added that he would like to get another Yaris when his daughter leaves for college.
In another era, he might be pitied for parking one of his luxury cars to drive around in an econobox.
But unlike small cars during the disco era, which had few creature comforts, the latest crop of small cars — including the Yaris,
Honda Fit and Nissan Versa — can be purchased with many of the same sought-after options as their bigger kin, like navigation screens or iPod connections.
“It is a fundamental change,” Mr. Spinella said. “People are willing to buy small cars because they are more sophisticated.”
And buyers appear willing to pay a lot for them. In 1990, buyers stuck to the low end of the scale when they bought a small car, CNW’s data shows. More than three-quarters opted for basic no-frills models, sometimes even forgoing a radio to keep the price down.
Now, 90 percent of buyers are buying fully loaded small cars, according to the data.
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