SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – Small cars are selling big for brands from Chevrolet and Fiat to Toyota, Volkswagen and Honda, on pace to capture the largest share of the U.S. auto market since 1993 and driving the best sales month in four years.
High gasoline prices coupled with the best crop of compact and subcompact cars that the market has ever seen drove a 50 percent increase in sales of small sedans, coupes and wagons last month. Diminutive models were huge for almost every automaker, accounting for one in five sales for the first time in more than three years.
While Toyota and Honda models still lead the pack, U.S. automakers proved they can wow shoppers, too. General Motorss Chevy won the subcompact and compact segments last month with its Sonic and Cruze, Ford delivered more small cars than in any September in a decade, and Chrysler Groups Fiat brand set a second straight monthly record.
These cars that a while back were perceived as econo-boxes now come standard in some cases with 10 air bags and all the other features available in bigger, more expensive cars, said Tom Libby, an analyst at R.L. Polk & Co. Whether its the Civic or the Focus or the Sonic or whatever, everybody agrees these are much, much better cars with more integrity than their predecessors.
Sales of cars such as Fords Focus and smaller jumped 50 percent in September to 240,288, the biggest increase among vehicle segments, according to Autodata Corp. The small-car market made up 20.2 percent of deliveries in the month, the most since August and July 2009, when smaller vehicles benefited from the Cash for Clunkers trade-in program.
At this rate, 2012 may be the year of the small car.
The segment accounted for 19.3 percent of the market through September. The last year that small cars held a greater share of the U.S. industry was in 1993, when the segment was 20.5 percent of the market, Autodata said.
Traditionally small cars were purchased by people who couldnt afford anything else, said Jesse Toprak, an industry analyst for TrueCar.com. Right now, thats not the case. We see people choosing them because they find them more appealing.
Deliveries of Detroit-based GMs Chevy Cruze jumped 42 percent to 25,787 last month, topping the year-to-date leader, Hondas Civic. In its first full year on the market, Chevys Sonic is running away with the subcompact segment previously led by Fords Fiesta and Hondas Fit. Sonic deliveries more than quintupled in September, leading GMs 97 percent surge in small-car sales for the month from a year earlier.
Chevrolet has a pretty competitive lineup now when you go from the micro car to the subcompact to the compact, Libby said. That tends to create a synergy where they feed off each other.