MOTOR MATTERS FREEWHEELING BY KATE McLEOD
In older days the Ford and Chevy boys fought exciting wars over trucks, musclecars and sedans. Now they’re about to duke it out over small cars. We buy compact cars in America, but subcompacts have traditionally been losers. Will either contender win this one?
— Compact small cars: Ford Focus vs. Chevy Cruze
The top five compact sold 900,000 units in 2009 — and that was in a terrible year. Now as car sales improve, Ford and Chevy will go head-to-head with the 2011 Ford Focus and the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze. There’s tough competition in this segment, especially from the Toyota Corolla and the Honda Civic.
Cruze designers squeezed every inch of gas mileage they could from their design. Powered by an Ecotec 1.4-liter turbocharged engine with variable valve timing, the new 2011 Cruze is expected to achieve 40 miles per gallon on the highway with a six-speed manual transmission — that’s hybrid territory. The Cruze debuts in fall. Prices have not been announced.
The Chevy Cruze may meet its match, or conqueror, in the 2011 Ford Focus, which goes on sale early next year. The Ford probably won’t reach 40 mpg, despite its advanced EcoBoost engine and technologies like fuel shut-off during deceleration. When it comes to looks, however, the Focus is much sleeker and sexier than the Cruze.
— Subcompact small cars: Ford Fiesta vs. Chevy Aveo
Subcompact Ford and Chevy contenders are also competing with cars from Kia, Nissan, Honda and Toyota that are built in Asia. But the Fiesta and Aveo will be the first subcompacts built in North America. The Ford Fiesta arrives in the U.S. this spring. It is the Number 2 best-selling car in Europe now, behind the Volkswagen Golf.
The North American market Fiesta will be built in Mexico. Powered by a 1.6-liter engine, the Ford Fiesta is paired with a five-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic transmission is optional. The Fiesta’s anticipated fuel economy is 30/40 mpg. The starting price is about $14,000.
Chevrolet Aveo subcompact comes out in the spring of 2011 and will be built in Michigan, bringing back 1,200 automotive jobs to the area.
The Aveo, equipped with a 1.4-liter Ecotec turbo engine, is coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission. The vehicle does not yet have an announced base price or estimated EPA mileage, but these figures will be competitive with the Fiesta.
Chevrolet also plans to introduce the even smaller A-segment minicar, the Spark, which is less about selling to consumers and more about meeting the government’s new fuel economy standards that require a manufacturer’s fleet average of 35.5 mpg by 2016.
Chrysler is also bringing the super cute Fiat 500 to the U.S. before the end of this year. Toyota will import a similar mini called the IQ for its Scion brand. These mini cars are four-seaters; super tight for sure, but not quite as cramped as the poor-selling two-seater Smart car. The Chrysler and Scion mini cars are much smaller than subcompacts like the Ford Fiesta and Chevy Aveo, and will give us an idea of what size small is acceptable to the American driver.
The question is, even as more and more small cars come into the market, are we going to buy them?
Gas prices remain well under $4 a gallon. AutoNation Chief Executive Mike Jackson said the price of gasoline determines 95 percent of buying purchases. Many analysts agree the impetus for buying compacts and subcompacts is determined by prevailing gas prices.
Once again carmakers are trying to make small cars popular, mostly because of government mandate. Much development has gone into the small cars. But what if we still want to stick our kayaks and kids into the car for an active lifestyle weekend? I think the government ought to finally start regulating all those coal-fired powerplants that are responsible for 70 percent of the egregious CO2, instead of beating on car companies. — Kate McLeod, Motor Matters
Copyright, Motor Matters, 2010