Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Will the micro car thrive in the U.S.?

Smart ForTwo - Subcompact Culture

Apparently General Motors COO Frtiz Henderson, told Automotive News that GM has no plans for a minicar in the U.S., although he recognized the recent popularity of the Smart car. He apparently thinks Americans would prefer something like a Cobalt or Aveo instead for the tiny Smart. As you may or may not know, GM was going to release a Korean-built version of one of three mini cars. Unfortunately, the U.S. got the red light on the project, although Europe gets a version of the Chevrolet Beat.

Mr. Henderson's comments made me wonder if the Smart car and micro car thing is truly just a phenomenon in the U.S. These cars have been "big" in Europe and the rest of the world for some time now. Granted, Europe and much of Asia are a lot more crowded than the U.S., and there's more need for a small vehicle.

I think it's been established that there is indeed a market for subcompact vehicles in this country—their sales have been rising since gas prices skyrocketed. However, they still aren't being bought up as much as many had figured. So, if subcompact only sells "okay" overall, would mini cars, ala the upcoming Toyota iQ or a Kei-sized car from Asia, be a viable competitor to the Smart in the U.S.? Perhaps the niche is well filled by Smart, and few other companies see the need to challenge the European automaker for title of #1 micro in the U.S.

Smart has only officially been in the U.S. for less than a year, so it's far too early to determine whether or not they're "successful." I'd be other automakers are using the Smart as a barometer to see whether or not U.S. buyers flock to the micro cars, or if they're simply a flash in the pan.

Smart USA

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