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Why no inexpencive fuel efficient cars. (Metro, Sprint....)

I have a 1999 1litre Chevy Metro and I love it. I bought it for $1100.00 and it’s great for getting around town. 47mpg in the summer mixed town and freeway. I don’t care about being hip or 0 to 60 times.

So why don’t the manufacturers make more of these? Why are the only choices expensive hybrids or compacts with high horsepower engines and reduced mpg?

That Metro you described wouldn’t meet today’s safety standards, and it also doesn’t have enough “infotainment” for a lot of people nowadays.

The modern day equivalents . . . love them or hate them . . . are the Spark, Sonic, Fiesta, etc.

I’m not sure about the Fiesta, but the Spark and Sonic aren’t generally considered to be good cars

That said, the Spark and Sonic aren’t really being built to meet some market demand. They are being built to get GM’s CAFE numbers down. In other words, they are being built, so that GM is “in compliance”

The smart car comes pretty close for what, $12,000? But not many people want something like that and its not very versatile. There are lots of considerations to buying a car than fuel efficiency, such as comfort for long drives, luggage space, the ability to carry passengers and kids, lumber, and so on.

A car like that may need your needs, but I’m sure you’re in a very small minority.

Most people that want very cheap-to-operate, high MPG cars are also NOT going to splurge on buying new–they’ll wait 'till it’s 3 years old and save some more. That limits the market to folks willing to pay new-car prices to wear a hairshirt for some ecological goal…and that’s not enough people to pay the tooling costs.

Also, MPG is a deceptive number…one the numbers get sufficiently large, there’s little additional fiscal benefit to even larger numbers. (Really, 1/MPG would be a more useful metric for operating cost concerns.)

For example, getting a pickup from 14MPG combined to 16MPG (2MPG gain) would cut fuel costs by 2.6 cents: from $0.271 to $0.238 per mile. Getting a small car from 35MPG to 40MPG (5MPG gain) would only save 1.4 cents: from $0.109 to $0.095 per mile.

Joe, I think there is a market for new very basic inexpensive cars. I’m not sure it’s possible to produce them, however, with the U.S. safety standards, the European safety standards, required passive safety systems, crash standards, and all the other regulatory requirements. And CAFE requirements along with emissions requirements will probably make everything in the near future hybrid, which adds to cost. I read that Toyota is planning to have hybrid vehicles in all their product lines by 2020. That’s just 6 year away.

So why don’t the manufacturers make more of these?

Lack of demand, and little profit. Also more and more safety requirements like rear view cameras, multiple airbags, and tire pressure sensors aren’t free.

Why are the only choices expensive hybrids

The average new car is about $30k-$31k

The Prius C and Honda Insight both start at around $19k. Which is significantly less than the price of the average new car.

or compacts with high horsepower engines and reduced mpg?

The Spark has about 84 HP, the Yaris about 106 HP, hardly high horsepower vehicles. Also higher crash test standards usually means more weight, and more weight means more power to move the vehicle, which means lower fuel mileage.

@TSMB: Yeah, I’ve said before that I’d love to buy a Tsuru. Partly as basic, economical transport, partly as a political statement, and partly because I like that car when it came out in the early '90s.

Yet another example of gov’t regs and red tape (courtesy of “the party of the workingman”) putting new cars out of reach of the workingman.

Yes, now I see. I got to get my priorities straight.

@Joes Garage: I don’t think your priorities have a meaningful impact on what major automotive firms decide to offer to the marketplace. The 2015 model lineup is what it is, priorities notwithstanding.

If you are really Gung-Ho about a no-frills rolling hairshirt, why not make one? Take a rust-free Festiva shell from the early '90s, drop in a small diesel from a skid-steer or older VW, and the MPGs should get up into the 60’s. (Of course, this car would not meet new safety regs, or even the emissions regs from the year it was manufactured, but many states will let you register a car as a custom and grant you limited exemptions from emissions testing.)

The Metro only existed because there is a demand for cheap, small, economical cars in other parts of the world, especially crowded world cities. Asia has a lot of these and Suzuki is a huge producer of the very smalll cars they buy. Indeed, they’re easily the biggest maker of ‘kei’ cars, a Japanese Govt. standard for very small, low-powered cars. In terms of Japanese sales, Suzuki is behind only Toyota, but the vast majority arr kei cars with meager profits. When they have tried to make bigger, nicer cars, like the Kizashi, they have been met with indifference and slow sales. Anway, the Metro was imported so GM would have a super small, cheap model to advertise and to help their CAFE. Same reason Ford brought in the Festiva/Aspire from Korea and GM sold the Aveo and Spark, rebranded Daewoos.

The Sonic is a more mainstream small hatchback, much roomier than the narrow Spark. If you want a tiny, simple car, your best bets are the Spark or the even tinier Scion IQ. I have a hard time recommending that one to anyone at all tall, and you might as well fold the back seat and forget about it. It’s not even useful for small children, as trying to wrestle a child seat back there isn’t realistic. The Mazda2 is also a very simple car, buy pleasant, well put together, and with just enough power to feel safe. Of the seriously cheap and small models it would be my choice. Or and Kia Rio or Hyundai Accent, though most seem more heavily optioned and pricier. The Honda Fit, likewise, but it is so much bigger and roomier it doesn’t feel like it belongs in the same class, though it is still a simple, inexpensively, economical car. Also exceptionally well made and the winner of just about every comparison test it has ever been a part of. I don’t like the interior much, but I understand the upcoming one is much better. If that’s true, and it’s a little better as a freeway cruiser, it will be hard to beat. It could fill the needs of probably half the car-buying population.

Joe, I agree with your comments.
I had to look up Tsuru. Never heard of that before. Nissan sold them under a different name where I am, I think it was the Sentra but I could be wrong. It actually looks a lot larger than my old '76 Corolla, which I wish I could buy again today.

You can have those little cracker boxes. I rented a Daihatsu Move a couple of months ago. It was slow; very slow (650 cc engine). Steering was numb and it was cheaply made. The dash rattled badly and this was a nearly new car. People think they want a car like that until they actually have one. Maybe as a city car or on a small island where you can’t get much over 50 kph anyway.

Tiny cars are not as fuel efficient as compact cars because of poor aerodynamics. But, they still have all the safety requiremts and have a tough time making people feel safe. The average American is TOO BIG for tiny cars. Smaller cars are not cheaper to make. They require better design for small packaging.

Plus @FoDaddy is right. Everyone wants the features you just can’t fit in a small car and they really have limited profit margins. Besides, why buy a little minicar when a compact base Corolla is hands down a better buy. The auto industry is built around making one or two basic chassis and then using several variants off it. Very small cars cannot share the larger car components which makes them cost ineffective.

American highways support bigger cars. Besides, if you want cheaper transportation, buy a used bigger compact car that gets better mileage ! Minicars are really only good for big cities where most prefer public transportation.

@MarkM is right; there are still good choices out there.

You want a hyper mileage car on the cheap, just find a Rabbit diesel on eBay and restore it. My 81 Rabbit diesel got about 48 mpg and never asked for anything except a timing belt every five years.

I don’t agree on some basic assumptions:

  1. More horsepower makes a car safer. If it was true insurance companies wouldn’t charge higher rates for higher horse power cars. Case closed!
  2. Cars weigh more because of high safety regulations. Yes, cars do weigh little more because of safety features, but a NHTSA study from 1968-2001.shows only a 125lb gain. That isn’t significant driver in why compact cars weigh more now than fifteen years ago.
  3. There are inexpensive compact cars out there right now. The average worker hasn’t seen wages go up in 30 years yet cars are more expensive than ever. The 1999 Metro cost $8500. With current inflation rates it would only cost $12,000.

My metro makes 42hp and gets around just fine. I’ve owned fast cars and motorcycles in the past so I know what it’s all about; crazy fun, “Road Rash” and lots of tickets. The 1999 metro came with airbags and was the safest car on the road for its class yet it only weighed 1800lbs. Now compact cars make more than twice that amount of horsepower, they weigh more and they get lower gas mileage. I don’t believe that is what an educated consumer wants.


Where do you live?

They don’t sell those cars you mentioned in the US

In fact, I’m 99% certain that Daihatsu isn’t even sold in the US

“The average American is TOO big for tiny cars.”


I’m not tall, but I’m “well fed” and TOO big for those tiny cars

And I’m just one of many . . .


Joes Garage wrote:
More horsepower makes a car safer. If it was true insurance companies wouldn’t charge higher rates for higher horse power cars. Case closed!

You’re commenting on the wrong end of the scale. This isn’t about overpowered cars versus typical cars. This is about underpowered cars versus typical cars. An underpowered car isn’t as safe when trying to merge or pass.

I whole heatedly agree that excess horsepower does not make for a safer car; but cars are down rated for use where safety is a concern if they don’t have sufficient horse power to supply the performance necessary to exist in modern traffic. I drove a two stroke SAAB which had excellent torque at low speeds but insufficient horsepower to keep up with semis on the Garden State Parkway making it totally unsafe battling the rigs for room when they could barely see me.

I never buy over powered cars, but I will never again buy an under powered car that I feel unsafe in while trying to “control” my environment. Your metro may be just fine while getting around with just you but if you load it up, which many might do and why they aren’t sold that way today, it becomes an underpowered obstacle on the road. And ,if it’s a small at risk vehicle, almost like a human powered bike, you wish you had that control at times.

Horse power gives you “control” of your environment. IMHO, you need at least a sufficient amount for a fully loaded car to be safe. Fortunaly, there are very few cars made today that are underpowered and even by insurance rate standards are not over powered at all. Now 42 hp ? That had better be on a motorcycle and not a 4place car in this day and age if you ever put 4 people in it and cruise today’s highways.