Consumers and Carmakers Still Look to Gas-Powered Compacts First for Fuel Savings

The national average price for a gallon of gasoline has climbed nearly 35 percent over the last year, dramatically increasing the importance of fuel economy to car shoppers in the United States. According to a recent study by GfK Automotive, consumers have mostly shifted to smaller compact gas vehicles of late, with many having decided that saving money on fuel is worth sacrificing a little in the way of space—just not too much.

The recent success of compact models like the Hyundai Elantra and Chevy Cruze have shown that the American public is again demanding better gas mileage, and with a wider range of fuel-efficient hybrid, electric, compact and subcompact models than ever before, carmakers were finally prepared for it this time. But according to the GfK study, buyers were much more keen on compacts than the other fuel-saving alternatives—particularly subcompacts like the Honda Fit, Chevy Aveo and Toyota Yaris, whose sales declined or remained flat in the face of high gas prices.

“Consumers are discovering that newer compact cars offer the comfort features before only reserved to larger cars, combined with the fuel economy that was only available in much smaller cars,” said Doug Scott, a senior vice president at GfK in a press release. “However, while consumers are looking at smaller vehicles due to high gas prices, they aren’t willing to go all the way down to a subcompact car.”

Meanwhile, word broke Friday that Chrysler has signed off on production plans for a new Dodge-branded compact that it will sell here in the United States, most likely for the 2013 model year. The car will be based on parent company FIAT’s Alfa Romeo Giulietta, a stylish and well-received 5-door hatchback that debuted in Europe in 2010.

The gas-powered compact will help FIAT unlock an additional ownership stake in Chrysler from the federal government following the carmaker’s descent into bankruptcy in 2009. According to the terms of the purchase agreement, the new Chrysler must release a vehicle achieving at least 40 mpg in fuel economy before FIAT can claim the final 5 percent stake. With a rebranded Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the company hopes to do just that.


  • James Davis

    Be careful Fiat when you deal with Chrysler, they will put you into bankruptcy like they did themselves a couple of times with their shotty under 20 MPG, overpriced vehicles. You have a very nice car, don’t allow Chrysler ruin it for you. If you want America to bail you out of a mess, give us a car that can get at least 50 to 60 MPG…and don’t tell us that you can’t do it, because we know you can. My Fiat 380 Spider got incredible gas millage, and that was back in the early 70′s.

  • Old Man Crowder

    Just downsized from a Pontiac Vibe to a Mazda 2 and my mpg has increased by 22%.

    I would like to have the prestige of owning a hybrid vehicle, but I can’t justify (or afford) the $10K premium — especially since I’m getting roughly the same average mileage (approx 40-45 mpg).

    Yes, I’ve sacrificed some space, but 95% of my driving is just me going to work and back and this car has all the features that any other vehicle would have. Why haul around all that extra, empty and wasted space?

  • Anonymous

    Don’t put the Dodge name on it … the car is to beautiful and too good to have that name – keep the name Alpha Romeo, don’t associate it with the Dodge name. Alpha Romeo has style and class.

  • Capt. Concernicus

    @ Old Man Crowder,

    You’re getting 25% better fuel economy (hwy mileage) than what the EPA states for that car? You must be driving with a REAL light foot and ALL highway miles.

    Why didn’t you consider the new Elantra that gets 40 on the hwy?

    I have a 2nd gen Prius and it’s averaging 50.1 mpg 65%/35% cty/hwy.

  • Chuck

    Those little hatchbacks (Fit, Yaris and 2) gets 30+ MPG so downgrading/upgrade (Depends on your opinion) from Vibe will get a person about 20% more MPG without altering driving habit. Where do you see anybody stating getting 40mpg on Elantra or even happy driving that junk? Why would you even recommend that? That junk cost $18,000+ and do not deliver the 40mpg and that number is only thing suckering people to buy them..

    2011 Toyota Corolla LE automatic is $18360@29mpg
    2011 Toyota Prius Base is $24280@48mpg

    To make size and safety points about same, I picked Corolla with LE model to be fair equipment (I’m just looking for A/C, power windows and remote power door.)..

    To drive Corolla for 100,000 miles you’ll need 3448 gallons of gas at 29mpg.
    To drive Prius for 100,000 miles you’ll need 2038 gallons of gas at 48mpg.
    That’s 1365 gallons of gas.
    But both cars need to have little less then 110,000 miles to just even out initial cost at $4 per gallon. So unless Gas price goes sky rocket, hybrid doesn’t worth it but even then I would recommend getting little hatchback and run it to ground or have fun seeing how many miles you can rack up on the odometer!

  • Charles

    Chuck, I have 146,000 miles on my Focus, and will keep it at least until the C-Max Hybrid is on sale. That looks like it will be 175,000 miles. If I make it that far, I may go for 186,282 miles. That would be a nice geek number.

    If the payback is 110,000 I will go for it. I expect gas to go to at least $5.00 average for 2013-2020. It would be nice to be near the top of the MPG ratings for my next new car.

  • Chuck

    Charles, I would give it few years before you hop over to C-max due to bugs it’ll carry since it’s a new vehicle and unless you want to be test dummy, I can’t stop you.. Go for it. You’ve driven your Focus at that mileage (I don’t know if you bought it new or not) , I’m assuming it’s paid off. You know at the trade time it’ll worth nothing.. 186,282 is an even number.. Are you sure you are able to pull it in to dealer at that mileage? Calling me geek because I posted truth is not nice BTW.

    I really don’t care if you buy hybrid or not. C-max is not going to be 7 seater so why buy it? It’ll will be sidegrade at most so you can carry more stuff then focus or feel great you are getting great mpg when you paid to have that feeling after even out initial cost? After you meet the initial cost, you’ll need to worry about battery, electric motor, gas engine, and transaxle. Good luck! I hope you enjoy driving any hybrid car you choose because I’ll still be driving gas powered car..

  • Capt. Concernicus

    @ Chuck,

    I guess you would say the same thing about the Chevy Cruze and Ford Fiesta, right? As you so elequently put it, “Where do you see anybody stating getting 40mpg on (insert Chevy Cruze or Ford Fiesta here) or even happy driving that junk? Why would you even recommend that? That junk cost $18,000+ and do not deliver the 40mpg and that number is only thing suckering people to buy them..

    Same thing right?

  • Charles

    I admit I am not thrilled about buying a first year car. Ford did do really well with the Escape and Fusion Hybrids, even in their first year. The C-Max minus the hybrid system will have been produced for a few years in Europe, so I hope the bugs are mostly gone.

    I did buy the Focus new and it has been paid for for many years.

    I was really calling myself a geek. The 186,282 miles is a light second. I do know that the Focus will be just about worthless at that time. Nine model years old and a lot of miles, on the cheapest Ford sold in 2004, does not make for great resale value.

    There is a plug in version of the C-Max, so I hope to be driving an electric car around town and a hybrid on the highway. It just happens to be the same car.

  • Old Man Crowder

    I should clarify that I live in Canada, so my vehicle prices and mpg calculations are a bit different than the American numbers. All-in, I paid just under $20K for the basic pkg with A/C and according to the Cdn figures, my Mazda 2 is rated at 42 city and 50 hwy.

  • Chuck

    @ Capt. Concernicus

    I wouldn’t say that about Chevy or Ford cars.. I sometimes still see 15~20 year old Chevy, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Dodge and others on the road today.. Do you remember what Hyundai Excel or 1990~1995 Elantra looked like? When was the last time you see those on road? I don’t see them around anymore but I sometimes see Chevy Caprice and Ford Crown Vic form 80’s? Honda CRX from 80’s? How about Dodge Dynasty? People drive them because they love them or whatever other reasons are but… THEY ARE STILL ON OUR ROADS TODAY. Can you give me a definition of good car in your opinion? Are you just looking at EPA and deciding a good car in your opinion and recommending without backing up your thoughts? Go to atutotrader.com and look up 1990~1995 Elantra, Ford Escort and Corolla without distance limitations. These being 15+ year old cars, why are there more Corollas and Escorts out for sell if there are no differences?

  • Capt. Concernicus

    @ Chuck,

    First off yes I do see some Hyundai’s around every once in a while. Just like I see some Chevy’s, Ford’s, Toyota’s, Honda’s etc. I don’t see a great number of any one particular model over another.

    Remember the Hyundai did not come to the U.S. until 1986, so other automakers had 6 more years of production then Hyundai during that decade. Hyundai sold 898,000 cars in the U.S. from 1986-89. That’s why you wouldn’t see a high percentage of any particular model from Hyundai during that time period. The same goes for the Hyundai sales in 1990′s. They just didn’t sell a lot of cars here. So it’s not that they’re not on the roads, it’s because the percentage of Hyundai’s compared to the major automakers is definitely lower.

    Also, I’m not recommending any cars. I just asked why the other poster didn’t look at the Elantra, which does by the way get better gas mileage than the Fiesta and Cruze without the nifty little tricks Chevy and Ford use. Plus, all Elantra models get 40 mpg hwy unlike the Chevy and Ford’s.

    Anyway, my opinion of what a good car is purely subjective and I love my 2nd gen Prius. It’s nearlyt fully loaded and is averaging 50.1 mpg. Sure it’s not fast, but at 50.1 mpg I’m not complaining.

  • Pete

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  • Anonymous

    “Remember the Hyundai did not come to the U.S. until 1986, so other automakers had 6 more years of production then Hyundai during that decade. Hyundai sold 898,000 cars in the U.S. from 1986-89. That’s why you wouldn’t see a high percentage of any particular model from Hyundai during that time period. The same goes for the Hyundai sales in 1990′s. They just didn’t sell a lot of cars here. So it’s not that they’re not on the roads, it’s because the percentage of Hyundai’s compared to the major automakers is definitely lower. “

    @Capt. (sorry your handle is a bit too long… : P)

    All Hyundai of the 80s are self-destructible…. trust me. Or you can ask their owners, if you can still find one. I guess you may have better chance to win the powerball lottery, or struck by lightning, figuratively speaking.

    Most, if not all, Hyundai of the 90s are craps. See the asking prices on the Craigs list. Or give a few calls to wreckyards and see how much are offered for them.
    A good working Hyundai from that era is almost a ‘gem’, and a rare one.

  • Anonymous

    @Crowder & Chuck:

    Have any of you consider the 2011 Honda Insight? It starts from 18.2k, I believe.

  • tapra1

    According to the terms of the purchase agreement, the new Chrysler must release a vehicle achieving at least 40 mpg in fuel economy Top Web Hosting