Microcars Are Hoping to Sell ‘Big’ in the U.S.


NBC News

Mak­ers of micro­cars – like the Smart, MINI and Fiat 500 – are out to woo Amer­i­can con­sumers, who are seri­ously look­ing to buy smaller vehi­cles this year.

Find out what automak­ers are fea­tur­ing that will attract U.S. buyers.

While it’s 27 inches longer than the orig­i­nal Fiat 500 Coupe, the Ital­ian maker’s new 500L is pos­i­tively minus­cule when parked along­side more main­stream crossovers, SUVs and minivans.

Slip inside, how­ever, and you may be in for a sur­prise. Despite the Fiat 500L’s pint-sized foot­print, it offers as much inte­rior space as the big Chrysler 300 sedan. Big things can come in small pack­ages, or so Fiat hopes more and more Amer­i­cans will discover.

The Ital­ian maker got off to a “pretty poor launch” in late 2010, its new U.S. chief exec­u­tive Jason Sto­ice­vich admit­ted dur­ing a media pre­view of the 500L in Bal­ti­more this month. But the orig­i­nal 500 line sud­denly seemed to click with con­sumers last year, as 2012 sales surged to 43,000, slightly more than antic­i­pated. Fiat has even more ambi­tious expec­ta­tions for this year now that sec­ond model line is rolling into showrooms.

Even law enforce­ment has taken to the most mini of the mini­cars: The Smart car.

But some Amer­i­cans are migrat­ing to smaller vehi­cles that have long been main­stream in crowded, costly mar­kets such as Europe and Japan.

These aren’t the stripped-down micro­cars of decades past, how­ever. In fact, some of the fea­tures that once drew cus­tomers to clas­sic econoboxes don’t apply to some of these newer offerings.

“When you’re sell­ing a micro­car for com­pact car prices, you have to offer an appeal­ing vehi­cle that steps out of the tra­di­tional small car hier­ar­chy,” said con­sul­tant Jim Hall of Detroit’s 2953 Analytics.

Small cars, in gen­eral, are begin­ning to gain momen­tum, even if Amer­i­cans main­tain their love affair of big­ger vehi­cles. Accord­ing to Ford Chief Oper­at­ing Offi­cer Mark Fields, B– and C– seg­ment vehi­cles – which range from the Fiat 500 to the Ford Focus — have jumped from 13 per­cent of the over­all U.S. mar­ket to 20 per­cent since 2005. And the trend is expected to con­tinue at an even faster pace.