EDWARD LAPHAM

Year of the Small Car can't come too soon

Edward Lapham is the executive editor of Automotive News.
Two years from now — 2010 — is shaping up as a pivotal year for more fuel-efficient cars in North America.

That's when Ford Motor Co. has scheduled its Fiesta for introduction in North America, even though it goes on sale in Europe and China this year.

And 2010 is the year by which Italian automaker Fiat plans to be producing cars in North America, according to Fiat Group CEO Sergio Marchionne. The most likely candidate for assembly here is the new 500 minicar that was introduced in Europe last year.

Coincidentally, 2010 also is when General Motors execs say the automaker will begin selling the gasoline-electric Chevrolet Volt.

It's also a probable time frame for tiny vehicles designed in faraway lands to finally land on our shores.

Yes, smaller cars — and smaller engines for larger cars — are being readied for market as soon as the industry can get them. Automakers — especially in Detroit — are scrambling.

Still, two years seems like a long time to wait.

With U.S. gasoline and diesel fuel prices soaring, Americans are on the verge of a feeding frenzy for the most fuel-efficient vehicles they can find. And naming 2010 as Likely Year of the Small Car Cornucopia at least offers some hope that an antidote to higher fuel prices is just around the corner.

That may be enough to keep desperate consumers from storming dealerships to scrounge around for any old stripped-down model with a four-banger that might be sitting against a fence collecting dust.

And 2010 also has a nice, round ring to it. It's not as apocalyptic sounding as 2001. Of course, the movie 2010, which was the sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, never measured up, either.

But with a reasonable flow of fuel-efficient vehicles, 2010 could be remembered as a good year.

I can hardly wait.

You can reach Edward Lapham at elapham@crain.com

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