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.