When gas prices spiked above $4 per gallon in the summer of 2008, car buyers appeared to find their small car zen. Toyota Corollas, Honda Fits and Civics, Chevrolet Cobalts and Ford Focuses were flying off dealer shelves at a fevered pace, while truck buying dropped through the floor. Fast-forward to present day and car buyers are once again picking bigger vehicles while many of last year's "smart" small car buyers may be experiencing a bit of buyer's remorse.
A closer look at the current sales charts shows that Americans may not be too keen on small cars after all, as News Chief is reporting that America's compact car market has dropped 15% year over year. Even used small cars are taking a beating, as Kelley Blue Book reportedly told NC that small car residuals have dropped like a stone while larger vehicles are becoming increasingly valuable. In August 2008, truck prices dropped by 17% versus the same point in 2007, but from 2008 to 2009 overall truck sales jumped by 23%.
Perhaps the biggest issue here is that many of the customers who went small in 2008 are now unhappy with their more economical vehicles. George Peterson, president of AutoPacific told NC that a recent survey of 32,000 car buyers showed that customers aren't thrilled with their new small car, quoting customers as saying "'It does what I want, but it doesn't have what I want. It doesn't have the features, the power, the room, and next time I'll opt for a bigger car.'"
The survey showed that 30% of small vehicle buyers would like more power with their next new car or truck, 25% want more cargo room, and 25% want more technology. 18% of those surveyed would like more safety and 22% would like a softer ride. Only half of the subcompact buyers would opt for a compact vehicle with their next purchase, while 35% want a midsized sedan and 18% want a crossover or SUV.
While the Auto Pacific survey results shows that many car buyers are looking away from compacts with their next purchase, automakers are ramping up small car production. New products like the Ford Fiesta and the Chevrolet Cruze are coming Stateside over the next year or two, and if the apparent trend away from small cars continues, automakers will be fighting over a familiarly small group of perspective buyers. Unless, of course, gas prices once again spike into the stratosphere, in which case we're likely to repeat this process again.