Are Small Cars Making a Comeback?

If you asked this question two years ago, when everyone else was also asking it, the answer might have been an optimistic “maybe.” Nowadays, it seems unlikely that smaller cars like Nissan’s Sentra are going to make a significant comeback, at least here in Santa Ana and across the US. While this is bad news for manufacturing plants that produce smaller cars, it’s good news for those that actually do want to buy a small car.

While it may not seem apparent at first glance, compact and subcompact cars like the Nissan Sentra aren’t going to go anywhere. Companies may not be selling a ton of them, but they still have a mighty incentive to manufacture them.

“There’s always going to be a market, however small, for economy cars,” says one auto market analyst. “And no matter how small that market gets, companies are still going to build them. The reason has more to do with marketing than it does with the size of the market or potential sales. Consider the fact that when parents buy their kids their first car on their 16th or 18th birthday, or right before they send them off to college, they’re thinking about a good dependable vehicle that gets good gas mileage and won’t break the bank. You don’t want to buy your kid a luxury vehicle, at least most of us don’t, so you go with the cheaper cars, and the cheaper cars are all the smallest cars; the compacts and the subcompacts. This is as true today as it was 30 years ago when compact cars were wildly popular. Car manufacturers do not want to lose out on that market because everyone, and I mean everyone, looks back fondly on their first vehicle, no matter how many problems it gave them. Companies don’t want to miss out on creating that rapport with younger drivers because that relationship of a person to their first car is special and they know that.”

While the numbers for smaller cars reflect a market that has increasingly steered itself away from smaller vehicles in general, companies still have a highly motivating incentive to produce them, and that boils down to the relationship established between a person and their first car. Another fact to consider is that small cars, especially compact and subcompact cars, remain the most affordable on the market and do get fantastic gas mileage.

“The economy right now is good, and gas prices are low, so that impacts consumer choices too,” he said. “You have fewer people thinking with their wallets, and more people going after what they want. While they don’t seem to really want smaller cars, and that’s not great for the market, gas prices change, and so do economic factors.”