Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Small Cars Are Alive and Well in Mexico

Suzuki Ignis
Suzuki Ignis in Mexico

New subcompact car sales are nearly nonexistent right now in the USA. There are only a couple new tiny cars even available for purchase anymore. However, if you want to see a ton of new and different small cars, all you have to do is cross our southern border. I just got back from a week in Manzanillo, Colima, and found small cars are alive and well in Mexico. 

Small Cars Are Everywhere!

While visiting my mother and uncle in this Pacific port town, I was enamored by the plethora of small cars running about the Mexican countryside. Bright yellow Nissan Versa taxicabs could be found en masse waiting to pick up riders. The Chevrolet Spark was ubiquitous in both hatchback and sedan form—a bodystyle the USA never got. (It is getting discontinued, however.)

Nissan Versa Taxi in Mexico
Nissan taxi cabs are popular choices in Mexico. Photo by Mercedes Lilienthal

In addition, Manzanillo was buzzing with tuk-tuks—three-wheeled low-speed motor scooters taking people both here and there.

Tuk-Tuk in Manzanillo, Mexico
A Tuk-Tuk zooms past in Manzanillo, Colima Mexico.

Why Are Small Cars Popular In Mexico?

The USA is a big country with wide roads and interstates with speed limits of up to 85 mph. In contrast, while Mexico isn't a tiny country, its maximum posted speed is only 110 k/mh or 68 mph. Plus, many parts of Mexico still have narrow cobblestone streets, which are better suited to smaller vehicles. Don't get me wrong, there are still pickups and SUVs, but there are far more small cars.

Hyundai Atos
Hyundai Atos

Small cars are also much less expensive than massive trucks and SUVs, and that may also explain why subcompacts are so much more popular. The average Mexican household income per capita was $2,639.78 in 2020. Compare that to $33,740.80 in the USA (source: CEIC Data), and you can see why less-expensive cars are more popular in Mexico. They're simply more affordable. 

Renault STEPWAY in Mexico

Because of the popularity of small cars, there is also a much wider variety of them available, both new and used. In addition to the aforementioned popularity of the Nissan Versa and Chevrolet Spark, there were scads of Mitsubishi Mirages (specifically the G4 model), Nissan Marches, Hyundai Atos hatchbacks, Renault STEPWAY hatchbacks, Suzuki Swift and Ignis models, and Toyota Avanza MPVs. We even saw a new Suzuki Jimny there. Also, there were countless "El Camino"-style cars with truck beds, such as the Ram 700 STL as seen below. Nearly every brand seems to have (or have had) one. We saw these tiny pickups wearing Ram, Chevrolet, Ford, Volkswagen, and Fiat badges. 

Ram 700 SLT
Mexican-market Ram 700 SLT

Our transportation during our Mexico visit was a fairly new Chrysler Pacifica van, which belongs to my uncle. And while not very big compared to a Chevrolet Silverado or such, it still felt large and lumbering compared to some of the tiny hatchbacks and runabouts around Manzanillo. Between the narrow streets, tight parking spots, and impressive congestion, this area of Mexico was very well suited to the subcompact car genre. 

I'm Envious of the Mexican Small Car Market

Truth be told, I was envious of all the small cars in Mexico. Because of the strong sales of B-segment vehicles there, they get global offerings such as the Suzuki Jimny and the new firebreathing Toyota Yaris GR, complete with AWD and gusty turbocharged engine. Add to it practical cargo carriers, efficient runabouts, and practical hatchbacks, and you've got an automotive landscape sure to make any small car enthusiast excited.

Traffic in Manzanillo, Colima Mexico, comlete with a Nissan March.

Right now we're in a time of very high fuel prices in the USA. Mexico wasn't immune to this as prices were about $22 MEX/liter, which appears to be around $4.00 USD/gal. I don't expect to see a huge influx in small car sales in the U.S., however. Part of this is because larger cars have become more fuel-efficient. Plus, the U.S.—once again—simply doesn't buy small cars. Sure, we still have the Mitsubishi Mirage, Kia Rio, and small crossovers like the Jeep Renegade and Hyundai Venue. But I don't expect a knee-jerk reaction by automakers to start offering small cars again, nor consumers shifting to subcompacts. But so be it. I guess to get my subcompact car fix, I just need to go back to Mexico. 

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