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Subcompacts - Tiny Cars in Big Demand

By NorCalCars guest writer Chris Somerville

ECHO. FIT. MINI. SMART. These are the names of some of the hottest selling vehicles on the road today, as gas prices continue to hover over the $4 per gallon range.

Tiny vehicles are all the rage as drivers are looking for ways to slash their fuel spending in this worsening economy. But this new generation of small vehicles is not comprised of cheap, low-quality Yugo remakes. These are quality vehicle from major manufacturers that combine fuel efficiency with upscale styling and are loaded with amenities that consumers demand.

But while consumer are clamoring for high-mileage transportation, short supply of these mileage mighty-mites is making it hard for commuters to save some cash at the pumps.

BMW Mini Cooper

2008 BMW Mini Cooper

In July, BMWs Mini division reported that its U.S. dealers are basically out of cars and will be selling pre-ordered units for the year, due to increased demand. For the first half of the year, Mini reports a 33.6 percent increase to 26,400 units.

Jim McDowell, a Mini VP, said in July that U.S. dealers have a one-day supply of cars and that 81 percent of the cars delivered in June were those that consumers configured and ordered. McDowell also said that Mini plans to add 13 new dealerships to its network by 2011, giving it 95 dealers across the country.

Honda Fit

2008 Honda Fit

Other manufacturers are also scrambling to meet soaring demand. In late August, Honda announced that it will release its Fit subcompact more than a month earlier than originally planned. For the first seven months of the year, Honda reported a 72.9 percent increase in Fit sales, to 52,053 units.

"We basically increased supply as much as we could to meet demand, and we were still going to be sold out of the 2008 model," Honda spokesman Chris Martin told Automotive News. "We had to do something so that our dealers would not be without the small cars that buyers are seeking."

Mercedes Smart

2008 Mercedes Smart

One of the hottest tiny cars on the road is the Smart from Mercedes. These microcars are smaller than average and are becoming increasingly popular for in-city commutes. With mileage numbers of 33/41, the Smart offer great fuel savings in a unique-looking package.

But don’t get the idea that these tiny cars are stripped-down versions without heat or seatbelts. They are full featured with plenty of amenities to provide a comfortable commute. Just don’t plan on packing a couple sets of golf clubs or more than a few carry-on bags into their small interior.

Good Owner Reviews

Even though they have smaller cargo capacity than giant SUVs, most small car owners are thrilled with their rides.

”I love it,” says Lisa Morse, a Mini Cooper owner who commutes from Portland to Lake Oswego, OR. “I get between 32-36 mpg and it’s so much fun to drive.”

Conway, who also owns a truck and Jeep, traded in a Suburu wagon for her Mini a few years ago and has no regrets about going small.

”For my commute, it can’t be beat,” she says. “It’s a blast to drive and it doesn’t take a big bite out of our budget.”

And in these days of rapidly rising gas prices, isn’t that what it’s all about?”

Chris Somerville is a freelance automotive writer based in the Pacific Northwest. Visit his Web site, Somerville Custom Publishing, for more information.

Photo’s courtesy of BMW, Mercedes, and Honda.