It’s 2019 and the automotive world is changing.  As domestic car manufacturers wind down production of traditional cars, crossovers, SUVs, and trucks fly off the production line. It seems logical to assume that foreign auto makers, especially Asian ones, will jump at the opportunity to fill this void.

That being said, does the appetite for cheap compact cars even still exist in North America?

Gas Station Lineup in June 1979 -Creative Commons

The Way it Was

The last few decades of the twentieth century saw a drawn out war between domestic and foreign auto makers to gain market share in the compact car game.  Following the oil crisis in the late Seventies and rapid inflation during the Eighties, consumers craved small fuel efficient cars at reasonable prices.  By the Nineties, the compact car had weaseled its way into the hearts and minds of many Americans and nearly all auto manufacturers offered a wide variety of coupes and sedans in their product line.

Trucks and SUVs Outside a Chevrolet Dealership -Creative Commons

Big Cars, Little Worries

Small cars aren’t always cheap, but cheap cars are almost always small.  Despite periodic spikes in oil prices over the last twenty years, the public has yet to see the $5 gallon of gasoline become a reality.  Because of this, SUVs are more popular now than they were in the late-90s. The crossover is America’s new compact car, as people enjoy driving vehicles that are safe, can perform in bad weather, and promise at least decent fuel efficiency.

2019 Nissan Versa -nissanusa.com

The Modern-day Playing Field

The small car market has become more sophisticated as consumer taste has evolved.  Unfortunately, this sophistication has increased the base price of many auto-maker’s “econobuy” vehicles well into the high-teens and twenties.  Sifting through the Ford, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Kia, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota, and Honda’s product lines reveals just four entry-level cars under $15,000 US.  Furthermore, most of these companies offer only one or two options to buy a traditional sedan.

Toyota Prii at Charging Stations -Creative Commons

Moving Forward

So, is the era of the cheap compact car over?  It appears that way.  However, it’s hard to predict where energy prices and the economy will be even a year from now.  Because of this, no one can say for sure that the econobox is totally a thing of the past.  Furthermore, as the price of producing electric cars decreases, it’s quite possible that cheap compact cars will see a resurgence in decades to come.