Friday, April 13, 2018

Are Automakers Abandoning the B-Segment?

2018 Chevrolet Sonic Sedan
2018 Chevrolet Sonic
For the last few months, gas prices have been fairly low, certainly under $3 a gallon in most places. And when fuel prices are down and the economy is up, people often forego the small cars and opt for trucks, SUVs, and big sedans. We get it: You’ve got money in your pocket and are willing to spend.
But keep in mind, it wasn’t that long ago that fuel prices were over $4 a gallon, the economy was climbing out of the ooze, and people were buying small cars. They were better on fuel, cheaper to purchase, and less expensive to operate. But American car buyers have short memories and auto manufacturers would much rather reap the big profits of big cars and trucks. I get it -- it’s a business. I also understand that large cars and trucks are a status symbol. No one looks at you like a baller in a Mitsubishi Mirage. Ask me how I know. Ask me if I care.

Not long ago we mentioned Ford had opted to say adios to Fiesta, the company’s B-segment brawler, which hit the North American market in 2011. This was rather alarming, since Ford put such a huge emphasis into the Fiesta’s initial launch (remember the Fiesta Movement?), and the Fiesta ST was lauded as one of the best hot hatches to grace North America in decades.Then just last week, Chevrolet announced it won’t be re-upping the Sonic’s subcompact contract. The Sonic first appeared in 2012, so it had a fairly short shelf life here. Interestingly, it does appear Chevy will continue to offer the smaller A-segment Spark, which has enjoyed surprise success. And realistically, Chevy probably doesn’t need both an A- and a B-segment car in its lineup these days.


So Ford and Chevy are bowing out of the B-segment. What about other companies?

So far, we haven’t heard anything from Fiat (despite low sales), Honda hasn’t said anything about the Fit, and Hyundai is still selling the Accent (although it axed the sedan variant) as well as the Accent-based Veloster. Kia just refreshed the Rio, and Soul sales are still strong, so it looks like we’re good there. We haven’t heard anything yet from Mitsubishi, who has been seeing success with its Spartan Mirage. Nissan still seems to be selling scads of Versas, and somewehat amazingly, Toyota sunters on with its aging Yaris Liftback, which still is using the venerable 1NZ-FE powerplant first used in 2000. Yes, it’s had a number of facelifts, but it still employs a four-speed auto and is priced above most of its competitors. The Yaris iA, aka Mazda2 sedan, still sells well.

So while the Fiesta and Spark are dead men walking … er … dead cars driving, there are still a host of subcompacts to choose from. But are these cars representative of things to come?


One thing that’s not going anywhere is the subcompact CUV or crossover. The Hyundai Kona is new, the Ford EcoSport is new, and there are numerous others with strong numbers from the Buick Encore and Jeep Renegade, to the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3. The upcoming Nissan Kicks will join the game shortly, too. While small cars are slumping, small CUVs are still hot, and possibly getting hotter.

Yes, it is disappointing to see Ford and Chevy abandon the B-segment hatch/sedan market, and it may be sign of future things to come. That is, unless fuel prices continue to rise, which they are. Gasoline by us in Portland, OR is over $3 a gallon for regular unleaded.

With an uncertain economy, political tensions, and dicey foreign policy, the market could really go anywhere. We do know North American buyers love their big cars, but the question will remain whether or not they’ll continue to abandon the B-segment.


Unknown said...

I just hope that gas prices stay relatively low; the economy strong; and the Mirage hated as much as it is today for at least another year. That's when I'll have the financial standing to buy a slightly-used or new Mirage as long as it keeps a low resale value on used ones and deep discounts on new ones keep that car in the tank. I didn't realize how smart a person could be as a buyer of one of these cheap cars; didn't realize how little money it took to get a late model car with such great manners and great mpg. I'm also eyeing the Spark and Fiat 500, but they just don't come that close mpg wise; and not near the utility either. As for the Versa, I can handle ugly, but that's just going to far; it'd be just about as bad as a Yaris.

Think of this another way...The only other way to use so little fuel in a car with a hatchback, or even a sedan for that matter, is a $27K Cruze diesel and pay for higher fuel and worry about expensive exhaust treatment systems going bad, or pay $26K for a Prius or Prius C hybrid, or pay even more than that for a full electric and pay near double for electricity compared to gasoline, pay extra for infrastructure and construction, and watch your fuel tank shrink over time. No. The consumer reviews have me all giddy about the Mirage for around $13K and 50 mpg and a 5 speed manual. That's the car for me. Don't know why I didn't think of this before.

Unknown said...

Hyundai has introduced a new Accent for 2018, and it's the hatchback version of it that has been cancelled, not the sedan.

Barry Traylor said...

I have been driving small cars for 40 years now and have no desire for a truck or SUV the size of New Mexico. My wife's daughter in law has a Ford Explorer and every time the price of gas goes up a bit I hear her complaining. For the sake of my marriage I keep my mouth shut (but it ain't easy).