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Fiat Chrysler shocked everyone last week when it announced the end of Dart and 200 production to make room for more big trucks and crossovers. Toyota made bigger shockwaves when it abruptly put down Scion, its hip fuel-conscious brand. What do these gargantuan business moves mean in a larger context? The world's big automakers don't expect fuel prices to rise too quickly anytime soon, and they're willing to bet the lot on it. Government-mandated fleet fuel economy numbers will probably prevent a return to the early 2000s heyday of giant body-on-frame sport utilities and make good incentive for manufacturers to continue developing more efficient engines, but we can expect to see a few more trucks and crossovers move off the lots this summer.
Small-car enthusiasts may benefit from short-term discounts as dealers clear their inventory out, but one has to wonder what this trend means for the future of small cars. Smaller segments were finally hitting their stride with most brands building small sedans and hatchbacks that people actually wanted to drive, and not just as a necessity anymore. Cars like the the Scion iA and the Ford Fiesta make a point for economical, fun, and refined vehicles in a small package – a real breath of fresh air after decades of barren, noisy, and boring subcompacts. After the 2008 recession and oil price shock, manufacturers scrambled to reduce their expensive sport utility lineups and build more refined small cars that the market craved. The battle to sell more compacts and subcompacts lead to the development of some world-class vehicles that because they were small and light, just also happened to be fun to drive.
The race for good small crossovers brought other brands to the fight against the CR-V, RAV4, and Forrester. As the economic ocean swings back the other way, let's hope they remember their prior blunders and decide to build both good large vehicles and small ones alike. Let's also hope they keep building affordable cars that are fun and comfortable to drive. All one has to do to know that the tide makes its way back around is read an almanac.