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What is "wrong" with these new subcompacts?

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  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,669
    Well, just look at how few models we have had to consider in our musings in this thread, up to this point. What, 7? Yaris, Fit, Versa (questionable, it's biggish), Mini Cooper, Aveo, Accent, Rio. 8 if you include (as many seem to want to) the Smart car.

    In 2002, the baseline year for Ford's remarks, there were even less (no Fit yet, no subcompact Nissan, no Aveo? I forget, on the Aveo. When did they stop selling Geos and their Chevy successors?)

    There are more than 160 models of passenger car or light truck for sale in the market today, per the last numbers I saw quoted. Of those, subcompacts make up 7 (or 8). No wonder sales had dropped so low.

    The nice thing is that just based on what automakers have planned right now, we will have double that many 3 years from now. Maybe more, if some other automakers reconsider their current strategy and bring in more of their global offerings. :-)

    2013 Civic SI, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (stick)

  • boaz47boaz47 Posts: 2,730
    Does anyone besides me think that people will gradually let go of this "charge me by the pound" philosophy of car pricing, particularly if car makers manage to offer some subcompacts with truly excellent fuel economy (as opposed to many of the current offerings, which are nothing more than fairly decent to good) or lots of content more typical of more expensive, larger cars?

    I believe people will buy small cars if forced to. Not as a first line preference but because of fuel prices or some other economic reason. But whe you look at American culture nothing else seems to go as smaller is worth more. Even in cars when all things are considered bigger is viewed as worth more. Even with the mini it has to be remembered it is a BMW and the bigger BMWs cost more.

    All things being equal think about it. We will pay more for a 2000 square foot house in the same area than we will for a 1000 square foot house. People expect to pay less for a 20 inch Sony TV than the do for a 32 inch Sony. When I bought my boat I can promise you a 25 foot Catalina was thousands less than a 30 foot Catalina. Now that I have a RV I can also assure you that a very well equipped 20 foot RV will cost you about half of what the same kind of RV in 32 feet will.

    I got a automotive GPS the other day and the bigger screen ones cost more than the smaller screen ones and no one expects any different. At least not in the same brand.

    Your question represents the only get what you need group. A different mind set.
  • thegreatozthegreatoz Posts: 39
    The only product category I can think of where "smaller is more expensive" is in computer electronics, such as small laptop computers which are almost always more expensive than big desktop models.

    Normally, a five-pound box of candy is more expensive than a one-pound box. A 32-ounce Pepsi costs more than a 16-ounce bottle. Always will be. ;)
  • nortsr1nortsr1 Posts: 1,060
    Good post boaz...I agree with you. Most of the new "small car buyers" really are only making the purchase because of the higher gas prices. They really "don't want" a "small vehicle"...They just don't want or "cannot afford" these higher gas prices.
    I know someone will probably post that these same purchasers didn't need an SUV or "bigger type vehicle"...but... that's what they wanted and enjoyed for many years. The commute to work is now getting too expensive for a lot of the working class and even for retired people such as myself.
    I have always enjoyed the ease of entrance and comfort of my SUV (as I am handicapped) and if I purchase a "small" vehicle" I damn near need a crane to get in and out of same. (for "us" old people" it's hard enough trying to get off the damn toilet. (yes, I know) they even have higher toilets now.
  • snakeweaselsnakeweasel a Certified Edmunds Poster.Posts: 11,563
    Does anyone besides me think that people will gradually let go of this "charge me by the pound" philosophy of car pricing,

    Consider this, all things being equal shouldn't a bigger car be more expensive (ignoring market conditions of supply and demand)? A bigger car needs more raw material which means the cost of raw material is going to be more hence the price needs to be more in order to make a profit.

    There are three types of people in this world. Those who are good at math and those who are not.

  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,590
    The only product category I can think of where "smaller is more expensive" is in computer electronics, such as small laptop computers which are almost always more expensive than big desktop models.

    Believe it or not, one automotive-related category where this holds true, to an extent, is motorhomes. Those really small ones that are essentially heavily reworked conversion vans are usually more expensive than the bigger Class-C mini-motorhomes. I think most of the extra cost comes up because of the special purpose-built, miniaturized appliances and other components they have to design to put in those things. Where a Class-C motorhome is still going to have smaller appliances and such than what is in your house, I think they tend to use more generic, off-the-shelf, mass produced components.

    As for cars, I think we're always going to run into the issue of them being cheaper by the pound, because the bulk of the costs associated with them is developing things like the engines, transmissions, suspensions, electronics, etc. I don't know if this still holds true, but it used to be that the most expensive component to redesign on a car is the firewall/cowl/windshield area.

    But if the manufacturers want to design in a longer rear for a bigger trunk, or punch out the wheelbase for more legroom, or more front overhang to make the car look bigger, none of that really costs very much.
  • boaz47boaz47 Posts: 2,730
    I think the seating position of the SUV was one of the biggest hits with the consumer. In fact that may be part, not all, of the success of many of the crossovers compared to sedans. The idea of just sliding in and sitting down like a comfortable chair just seems right. That was one of the reasons my mother in law loved my PT. If you think about it that is the seating position every American has preferred in their homes for as long as there have been Americans. But some of the small cars seem to be trying to address this. Like you I don't care to have to grab the top of the door to lift myself up to a standing position.

    But if we think about it even in the suggestion of things like computers if we go from same manufacturer and options a 15 inch lap top will cost less than a 17 inch. In motorcycles a 250 cost less than a 350 and a 350 cost less than a 700. We expect cars to be the same.

    Like many I have been forced to drive a compact for some of my daily tasks around town. If I have my choice of if I were still working I would drive my Tahoe. I am retired now and my job no longer pays for my fuel so I have to save my money from longer trips in the Tahoe when we go on vacation. I like the extra room.
  • snakeweaselsnakeweasel a Certified Edmunds Poster.Posts: 11,563
    You also have to remember that the cost of developing and design per car goes down with increased production. The price of the additional material to make the bigger (or even look bigger) stays the same per car no matter how many is produced.

    In other words the cost per car to design the firewall/cowl/windshield area may be much less than the cost of making the rear end longer for a bigger trunk on a per car basis.

    There are three types of people in this world. Those who are good at math and those who are not.

  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,669
    "Consider this, all things being equal shouldn't a bigger car be more expensive (ignoring market conditions of supply and demand)? A bigger car needs more raw material which means the cost of raw material is going to be more hence the price needs to be more in order to make a profit."

    No, this is a false premise if the smaller car has more expensive design elements in it. For instance, an Explorer or Tahoe with a suspension design in use since the 1950s and an old-tech engine, causing crappy handling and a tendency to run out of steam as soon as the tach begins to rise, is using MUCH cheaper parts than a new Fit, Cooper, or Yaris. Heck the Accent SE outhandles and outrevs those vehicles. Ditto the comparison with large cars like Impala, Lucerne, etc.

    OTOH, except for the Cooper, we don't have any of the type of subcompact I was envisioning with that statement available for sale here (dare I say yet?). I would like to see a much wider selection of premium subs available in the U.S. If sky-high gas prices contribute to that happening, then I guess that is the silver lining of the oil crunch.

    2013 Civic SI, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (stick)

  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,590
    No, this is a false premise if the smaller car has more expensive design elements in it.

    I think even if you're talking about a small car with cheap design components in it, it doesn't cost that much more to make a bigger car. Most of the cost goes into the R&D. A few (or few hundred) pounds of extra steel and such isn't going to make a car cost that much more.

    One thing that's kinda funny, is that for all the ragging the domestic industry takes for the crappy small cars it made in the 70's and beyond, many of them were actually much more advanced than the big cars they were putting out. For instance, the Vega had an aluminum OHC engine. The Pinto had OHC and rack and pinion steering. I think the V-6 used in the Pinto wagons was even OHC. It was German, IIRC. And Chrysler had FWD, OHC, and I'm sure rack and pinion steering in the 1978 Horizon. Yet the most expensive New Yorker had an engine that could be traced to 1958, and a transmission and suspension that could be tracked to 1957.

    But, aside from all that, they still ended up being crappy little cars. :sick:
  • busirisbusiris Posts: 3,447
    One thing that's kinda funny, is that for all the ragging the domestic industry takes for the crappy small cars it made in the 70's and beyond, many of them were actually much more advanced than the big cars they were putting out. For instance, the Vega had an aluminum OHC engine. The Pinto had OHC and rack and pinion steering.

    I don't know if I would call those "advanced" models....at least, defining "advanced" as "better".

    The Vega engine was replaced with a cast iron block engine because the aluminum block burned oil like the old Jaguars leaked oil. I still remember the local Chevy dealership having a cast iron engine on display in the showroom, attempting to persuade buyers that it was an "improved" design over the aluminum engine.

    And, the Pinto...the "exploding" pinto that burst into flames witha minor rear-end tap...All so Ford could save $12-14 per car, because it was cheaper to pay off injury claims than correct the desing issue with the gas tank placement.

    But ...the big cars were trash, too...
  • lilengineerboylilengineerboy Posts: 4,116
    The Vega engine was replaced with a cast iron block engine because the aluminum block burned oil like the old Jaguars leaked oil. I still remember the local Chevy dealership having a cast iron engine on display in the showroom, attempting to persuade buyers that it was an "improved" design over the aluminum engine.

    I thought they just put sleeves in the pistons, like they do today with aluminum engines. The Cosworth Vega of '76 was even more advanced with a 16 valve fuel injected engine.

    The Fiero is another car that comes to mind, it had the Saturn style dent resistant body panels, really innovative packaging, and could've gotten people used to smaller vehicles. Unfortunately, it seems like they sold it before they tested it or finished designing it and it got the reputation for being a POS and it killed the model. Its kind of ashame because the 1988 was a legitimate vehicle.
  • nortsr1nortsr1 Posts: 1,060
    boaz47...Yes, sliding in and out is a bid advantage from me. I have 2007 Honda CRV FWD EX that gets approx. 22 mpg city and 27 on long trips. I, also, have a 2006 PT Cruiser that I purchased for the exact same reason of getting into and out od easily (great high seat advantage). Plus the PT (with the rear seats folded down) makes my mobility scooter easily accessible,as also my CRV. I have a Pride GO Go that disassembles into four easy to lift pieces (heaviest piece is only 35 lbs.) I keep the PT down in Fla. at my home in Melbourne Beach and the for summer visits I keep the CRV in NJ.
    I actually get better gas mileage with the CRV as compared to the smaller PT Cruiser.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,590
    I thought they just put sleeves in the pistons, like they do today with aluminum engines. The Cosworth Vega of '76 was even more advanced with a 16 valve fuel injected engine.

    I had always thought that they switched over to the Pontiac Iron Duke 2.5 in later years of the Vega, but my old car book shows the 2.3 engine being used right up through the Vega's last year, 1977. That year, Pontiac did use the Iron Duke in the Astre wagon and all models of the Sunbird, with the 2.3 Vega engine still standard in the other Astre models.

    I do remember watching an episode of "Let's Make a Deal", or one of those old game show reruns, where the prize was a later Vega. In describing this glorious prize, the announcer made mention of the "new and improved engine", so they must have done something to it in its later years? Maybe that's when they sleeved the cylinder walls, perhaps?

    Interestingly, my old car book also mentions that the Chevette used OHC engines. That was a bit of a shock to me, considering how simplistic the Chevette was even when new. But it was actually based on an Opel design, so I'm guessing the engines were of German descent.
  • busirisbusiris Posts: 3,447
    The Fiero is another car that comes to mind, it had the Saturn style dent resistant body panels, really innovative packaging, and could've gotten people used to smaller vehicles. Unfortunately, it seems like they sold it before they tested it or finished designing it and it got the reputation for being a POS and it killed the model. Its kind of ashame because the 1988 was a legitimate vehicle.

    If I remember correctly, the Fiero was originally designed to be much more of a mid-engine performance vehicle. However, certain factions within GM (especially Chevrolet, worried aboiut Corvette sales/stature) screamed bloody murder and had enough influence to de-tune the design, making the car an oddity, at best. It was certainly never considered a performance vehicle, and never found a niche buyer audience.
  • lilengineerboylilengineerboy Posts: 4,116
    If I remember correctly, the Fiero was originally designed to be much more of a mid-engine performance vehicle.

    Everything I've seen says it was destined to be a small commuter car designed for light weight and good mileage. Its back end was the front of a Citation turned around and the front end was originally from a Chevette, so I don't think there were too many visions of glory anywhere in there.
    Resto-mods with the little Northstar V8 are running around showing what could've happened.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,590
    Everything I've seen says it was destined to be a small commuter car designed for light weight and good mileage.

    That falls in line with everything I've heard about the Fiero, too. Basically, it was supposed to just be a sporty, economical little car, more show than go. Essentially what the original vision for the Ford Mustang had been, minus the back seat.

    Pontiac was also just about dead by 1982-83, as its more profitable bigger began to fall from grace, and the smaller, more economical cars just weren't selling. Pontiac began trading its performance image in the 70's for more of a luxury image, but then that put them into Buick/Olds territory, and those cars just did it better. The Firebird/Trans Am had been a hot seller...until the second fuel crisis nearly wiped out demand for that type of car. And the Grand Prix had been a strong seller as well, until the 1980 downturn that affected all bigger cars. A 1981 restyle, that was supposed to be 15% more aerodynamic, sold tolerably for a year and then began to fizz.

    The Fiero was probably conceived with the idea of scarce $3.00/gallon gasoline in mind. It just happened to get launched in 1984, and by that time gas was cheap again and people were returning to bigger cars in droves, and performance suddenly wasn't a dirty word anymore. As it was though, the Fiero generated a lot of buzz for Pontiac, and was the cornerstone of its 1984 turnaround. Pontiac sales simply exploded for 1984, and the Fiero, represented a major part of that.

    Unfortunately, the performance didn't match the car's looks. I think I heard 0-60 came up in about 12-13 seconds, which actually isn't bad for a 92 hp 4-cyl pushing 2500 lb or more. It probably laid waste to 4-cyl Mustangs and Camaros, and Firebirds pushing the 2.8 V-6. But then Grandma would pull up next to it in a V-8 Parisienne, wire wheels and all, and lay waste to it. :surprise:
  • lilengineerboylilengineerboy Posts: 4,116
    Unfortunately, the performance didn't match the car's looks. I think I heard 0-60 came up in about 12-13 seconds, which actually isn't bad for a 92 hp 4-cyl pushing 2500 lb or more. It probably laid waste to 4-cyl Mustangs and Camaros, and Firebirds pushing the 2.8 V-6.

    You also have to see what else was out there, even the premium stuff. So early 80s, thats like the 110 hp Audis, the BMW 318, or even a Poncho 6000 w/ the same engine, or Obama's fav, the Granada.
  • busirisbusiris Posts: 3,447
    Everything I've seen says it was destined to be a small commuter car designed for light weight and good mileage. Its back end was the front of a Citation turned around and the front end was originally from a Chevette, so I don't think there were too many visions of glory anywhere in there.
    Resto-mods with the little Northstar V8 are running around showing what could've happened


    You might be correct, but I would suggest you read the Wikipedia article on the Fiero. It mentions the objections to a Corvette competitor by GM accounting folks, as well as prototypes tested with V-8 engines. I find it difficult to believe that GM did that testing just to provide the public a small commuter car.

    Of course, I guess it depends on the specific point in the life-cycle as to what the car's intention was meant to be. I do remember reading articles in car magazines touting the car's image before it went into production, and the theories about why it never fulfilled its performance capability.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Wasn't the Iron Duke known for catching fire, so they swapped out and started using a bigger oil filter?

    I had a co-worker that had one and she could not sell it, even for peanuts, after a couple of years.

    It was a glorified secretary's car, basically.
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