Sales of small cars account for almost 20% of the market this year, the highest since 1993, according to Autodata, turning a long-term trend toward big SUVs finally on its head.
A combination of high gas prices and a great selection from many automakers is behind the surge.
"Traditionally small cars were purchased by people who couldn’t afford anything else," Jesse Toprak, an industry analyst for TrueCar.com, told Bloomberg. "Right now, that’s not the case. We see people choosing them because they find them more appealing."
Last month, subcompacts and compacts rose 50% in sales and the smallest cars account for 20% of them. Sales of a wide range of small cars are busting records: Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Subaru Impreza, Chevy Sonic – which quintripled sales last month – Ford Focus and Fiesta, Dodge Dart, Fiat and Kia Rio, and VW Bug.
"These cars that a while back were perceived as econo-boxes now come standard in some cases with 10 airbags and all the other features available in bigger, more expensive cars," Tom Libby, an analyst at R.L. Polk & Co., told Bloomberg. "Whether it’s the Civic or the Focus or the Sonic or whatever, everybody agrees these are much, much better cars with more integrity than their predecessors."
"It’s cool and hip right now to be frugal," says Tamara Darvish, of Darcars Automotive Group, which owns a nunber of dealerships in Maryland. "Consumers are thinking much more logically than emotionally compared to how they did in the past."
Among plug-ins, the Chevy Volt leads with a record 2,851 sales last month and 16,348 for the year. It’s followed by 7,734 Prius plug-ins and 5,212 Leafs. GM is offering a sweet price to lease the Volt – just $299 a month – and the Leaf can be leased in certain markets at $199 a month.
Toyota doubled sales of its Prius hybrid family to 18,932 last month and expects to sell 230,000 cars this year. It’s now the third top selling car in the world.