Sales of midsize cars shrink as buyers go smaller


You can’t drive far in the U.S. without seeing a Toyota Camry, Honda Accord or Ford Fusion.

Midsize sedans have been America’s favorite cars for decades. That’s changing. More people are choosing small cars like the Chevrolet Cruze and even smaller ones like the Honda Fit because they’re worried about gas prices and car payments. There’s another reason, too: Small cars are no longer the cramped econoboxes of the 1980s and 1990s, and they have many of the same features as larger cars.

2012 Ford Focus

Compact cars will outsell midsize ones as early as this year, forecasts J.D. Power and Associates, a marketing information firm. That hasn’t happened in at least two decades.

2011 Hyundai Elantra

Just five years ago, automakers sold nearly 250,000 more midsize cars than compact cars in the U.S. Gas was cheaper then, and automakers had fewer small models to sell. But by 2015, J.D. Power expects compact and subcompact cars to command 20 percent of sales, while midsize cars will account for just 14 percent.

2012 Buick Verano

For most of the past 15 years, the Camry has been America’s best-selling car. And Toyota wants it to stay that way. This fall, the Japanese company released a new version that increases fuel economy to 35 miles per gallon (15 kilometers per liter) and sells for even less than the old model. But it’s facing tough competition from smaller cars such as the Hyundai Elantra, which gets 40 mpg (17 kpl) and costs $5,000 less. Elantra sales surged 46 percent to 161,000 through October, while Camry sales fell 9 percent to 251,000.

2012 Honda Civic

The Elantra isn’t the only competition. For a brief period this year after the Japanese earthquake, the Chevrolet Cruze unseated the Camry as the best-selling car in the country.

2012 Subaru Impreza

Melanie Jackson, 29, a paramedic, went shopping for a midsize car last summer but wound up with a two-door Honda Civic coupe because she was wowed by its fuel economy. She says the Civic can easily fit her three sons, their backpacks, football equipment and groceries. And she averages 38 mpg (16 kpl) and spends only $30 a week on gas.

2012 Fiat 500 Cabriolet

“I forget how to put gas in the car because I do it so rarely,” Jackson says.

Here are some reasons for the growing appeal of small cars:

2012 Mazda 3

Today’s small cars have all the bells and whistles

Unlike the stripped-down models of earlier decades, small cars offer all the amenities of bigger models, like leather seats, satellite radio and keyless entry.

2012 Toyota Corolla

Buyers can get a Nissan Versa hatchback with a navigation system for a little more than $15,000. Downsizing Baby Boomers, as the more than 76 million Americans born from 1946 to 1964 are known, and tech-savvy young drivers don’t want to compromise on features when they get a smaller car, so automakers are responding.

2012 Chevy Cruze

Mara Landers, 35, an assistant professor of mathematics at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg, California, drove a 1998 Civic that was so spare it didn’t have a radio. She traded it in for a 2009 Civic with power windows, keyless entry and a digital dashboard display.

“The new Civic really feels like a luxury update of the old one,” Landers says.

2012 Kia Forte

Small cars are cheaper

An Elantra starts at $16,445, but can be loaded up with leather seats, a navigation system, a rearview camera and other features that raise the price tag to $23,305. To get a midsize Hyundai Sonata with those same features, buyers have to pay $6,000 more.

Small cars are roomier

The 2012 Ford Focus compact is nearly 8 inches (20 centimeters) longer and 5 inches (12.5 centimeters) wider than the Ford Escort — the car it replaced — was a decade ago. That means buyers don’t need to move up to a midsize just to stretch their legs. Adding inches here and there is an easy way for carmakers to increase a vehicle’s perceived value. The difference between compact and midsize cars also is narrowing. In 1992, the compact Corolla was nearly 17 inches (43 centimeters) shorter than the Camry. But the Corolla has stretched, and is now just 10 inches (25 centimeters) shorter.

2012 Nissan Versa

The Environmental Protection Agency defines compact cars as having 100 to 109 cubic feet of passenger and cargo space, while midsize cars have 110 to 119 cubic feet. That gives automakers plenty of room to play with.

One reason companies are racing to improve their small car offerings is an upcoming increase in fuel efficiency standards. Carmakers have agreed to double the average fuel economy of their fleets to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Companies will have to meet that goal with more efficient gas engines, hybrid technology and other methods. But they’ll also meet it by selling more small cars. The Ford Focus, for example, gets 5 more miles (8 more kilometers) per gallon than the Fusion.

That difference is important to many cars buyers because gasoline prices remain high. At an average of $3.34 a gallon (88 cents a liter) nationwide, regular gasoline costs 16 percent more than a year ago. And it could reach $4 ($1.05 a liter) next spring, a level it almost touched earlier this year.

Of course, it’s too early to declare the death of the midsize car. Sales have dropped before, most recently with the rise of crossover wagons such as the Toyota RAV4 and Ford Edge in the last decade. Those vehicles combine the roominess of SUVs with the nimbler handling and higher gas mileage of cars.

2012 Dodge Caliber 

And midsize cars remain very popular in the U.S. Five of the 10 top-selling vehicles in October were midsize sedans, and sales actually grew during the recession as people downsized from even larger cars, such as the Toyota Avalon and Chrysler 300. However, small car sales grew faster.

2012 Ford Fiesta 

Toyota, for one, isn’t predicting a big drop in sales of midsize cars over the next five years. One factor: As women make more money, they’re expected to move from small cars up to midsize ones, says Gregg Benkendorfer, Toyota’s national manager for product marketing.

People also may move back into midsize cars if gas prices stay relatively low and stable, says Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for LMC Automotive, a consulting firm.

2012 Mazda 5

But for now, small cars have the momentum. They are on dealer lots for less than a month before being sold, compared with more than six weeks for midsize cars, according to car information site Edmunds.com.

Jackson says two of her friends have downsized to small cars since she bought her Civic, and they’re as happy as she is.

“I don’t think I’ll ever go back up to a larger car,” she says.

By Dee-Ann Durbin/Associated Press Auto Writer

Published by CityFella

Big city fella, Born and Raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lived in New York (a part time New Yorker) for three years . I have lived in the Sacramento area since 1993. When I first moved here, I hated it. Initially found the city too conservative for my tastes. A great place to raise children however too few options for adults . The city has grown up, there is much to do here. The city suffers from low self esteem in my opinion, locals have few positive words to say about their hometown. visitors and transplants are amazed at what they find here. From, the grand old homes in Alkali Flats, and the huge trees in midtown, there are many surprises in Sacramento. Theater is alive is this area . And finally ,there is a nightlife... In.downtown midtown, for the young and not so young. My Criticism is with local government. There is a shortage of visionaries in city hall. Sacramento has long relied on the state, feds and real estate for revenue. Like many cities in America,Downtown Sacramento was the hub of activity in the area. as the population moved to the suburbs and retail followed. The city has spent millions to revive downtown. Today less than ten thousand people live downtown. No one at city hall could connect the dots. Population-Retail. Business says Sacramento is challenging and many corporations have chosen to set up operations outside the cities limits. There is vision in the burbs. Sacramento has bones, there are many good pieces here, leaders seem unable or unwilling to put those pieces together into. Rant aside, I love it here. From the trees to the rivers. But its the people here that move me. Sacramento is one of the most integrated cities in America. I find I'm welcome everywhere. The spices work in this city of nearly 500,000 and for the most part these spices blend well together. From Ukrainians to Hispanics and a sizable gay community, all the spices seem to work well here. I frequently travel and occasionally I will venture into a city with huge racial borders, where its unsafe to visit after certain hours. I haven't found it here. I cant imagine living in a community where there is one hue or one spice. I love the big trees, Temple Coffee House, the Alhambra Safeway, Zelda's Pizza, Bicyclist in Midtown, The Mother Lode Saloon, Crest Theater, and the Rivers. I could go on and I might. Sacramento is home.

One thought on “Sales of midsize cars shrink as buyers go smaller

  1. usually i dont encounter many blogs with all the same kind of opinion while you. Not in which its a poor thing, but you do come across as being opinionated and also angry sometimes

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