Why the Big 6 (But One) Abandoned Small Cars: It’s Not Just the Margins

Americans are big. Really big. Which might explain the absence of small cars (or almost any cars) being offered by the major OEMs

The accepted wisdom seems to have it that one of the primary reasons why vehicle manufacturers are getting out of cars and pouring more resources into crossovers is because they can make better margins on the latter. Which may be true, but is likely only part of the story.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American adults are, well, large. The average male over 20 is 5-foot 9-inches, weighs 199.8 pounds and has a 40.5-inch waist. The average female is 5-foot 3.5-inches, tips the scales at 170.8 pounds, and has a 38.7-inch waist. According to the CDC, 73.6% of adult Americans are overweight.

Seems like a fairly compelling rationale for large vehicles.

So what’s someone who wants to buy a small car to do? Well, the answer to that is “Look for something that is not all that small.”

That is, of the U.S. Big 6 automakers—GM, Ford, Stellantis NA, Nissan, Toyota and Honda—only GM has a car that can be considered “small.”

Chevrolet still offers the Spark. This car has a 93.9-inch wheelbase, is 143.1-inches long, 62.8 inches wide, and 58.4 inches high. It has a passenger volume of 83 cubic feet, and a cargo volume behind the rear seat of 11.1 cubic feet.

2021 Chevy Spark. Small. But big. (Image: Chevrolet)

The next smallest is the Fiat 500X, although the company positions it as being a crossover rather than a car, but for the sake of argument, let’s include it since it has a design that is very much like the now-departed (and tiny) 500. The 500X is gargantuan compared to the Spark, with a 101.2-inch wheelbase and length, width and height dimensions of 167.2, 73.2 and 63.7 inches, respectively. It has a passenger volume of 91.7 cubic feet and cargo area behind the rear seat of 14.1 cubic feet.

Then there’s the Nissan Versa. It has a wheelbase of 103.1 inches—9.2 inches more than the Spark—and an overall length of 177 inches, or almost three feet longer than a Spark. Its other dimensions are 68.5 inches width, 57.3 inches height, a passenger volume of 88.9 cubic feet and a cargo volume of 14.7 cubic feet.

Whereas people might associate “Honda” with “small cars,” with the Fits remaining on dealer lots the only ones left, the smallest car in the lineup is the Civic Hatch. Which isn’t all that small. It has a 106.3-inch wheelbase, is 177.9 inches long, 70.8 inches wide and 56.5 inches high. It has a passenger volume of 97.2 cubic feet and a cargo volume of 25.7 cubic feet.

The smallest Toyota car is now the Prius, which has a wheelbase of 106.3 inches and an overall length of 180 inches—or more than three feet longer than a Spark. It is 69.3 inches wide, 57.9 inches high, and offers 93.1 cubic feet of passenger volume and 27.4 cubic feet of cargo capacity.

Finally, there’s Ford, the company that was the first mass producer of passenger cars, the company that is now shifting its offerings away from, well, passenger cars. It currently has two cars on offer, and production has stopped for the Fusion, so that leaves the Mustang. Which is a completely bizarre thing to have in the context of a Spark. But here it is. The Mustang has a 107.1-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 188.5 inches. It is 81.9 inches wide, 54.3 inches high, and has a passenger and cargo volume of 82.8 and 13.5 cubic feet, respectively.

But consider this: the Spark actually offers more passenger volume than the Mustang. Not much more (0.2 cubic feet, or about the size of a football). But more.

So it might be a reasonable choice for a big American looking for a small car.–gsv

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