Detroit Goes Dime-Sized


The Ford Ka. The Opel Astra. Heck, the Smart Car.

Drive any highway in Europe, and you’ll see hundreds of examples of what some refer to as tin cans on wheels.

If Ford and GM have their way, being tailgated off the fast lane by an Excursion with chrome rims may soon be an oddity–rather than standard–on many American freeways.

$4/gallon makes you downsize. GM and Ford, fearing major losses from stalled SUV and pickup truck sales, are turning to pint-sized European hatchbacks for inspiration. According to a Spiegel article, both carmakers are hitting up the R&D departments of their European divisions for ideas on small cars for the American market.

GM and Ford have been hit hard by falling sales of gas-guzzling pickup trucks and SUVs. With drivers having to pay an average of over $4 per gallon, sales of larger cars have slowed to a trickle, blindsiding US automakers. Unable to quickly retool to develop their own fuel-efficient models, GM and Ford are both reviewing their units in Europe — where compact and subcompact models are far more prevalent — for possible models that could be produced for the American market.

Once they have the right cars for the American market, they’ll produce and sell them in the States, as a weak dollar doesn’t favor imports. In coming years, hot new cars will have four cylinders rather than 4WD.

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A move like this benefits everyone. You can’t argue with cars that guzzle less gas, even if they’re more cramped than what we’re used to. People who need SUVs for work, family, or the climate they live in benefit from lower purchase prices to offset gas costs–at least in the short term, until SUV supply adjusts to meet lower demand.

The rest of us, meanwhile, might enjoy the benefit of improved aerodynamics and more powerful sound for our expensive stereo systems (After all, 170 decibels makes more of a bang in a shoebox than a shipping container).

See you on the road a year from now. Maybe we can race our Astras.