The Kia Soul, Ford Fiesta, Pontiac G3, Mazda Kabura, Nissan Cube and others are expected to give consumers more high-mpg choices.
Timing is everything, said Tina Jantzi, senior manager of North American forecasting at J.D. Power Automotive Forecasting in suburban Detroit.
"Given the state of the economy and gas prices, really any of the smaller-vehicle timelines could be pulled ahead," she said.
The Detroit 3's 2009 and 2010 product plans reveal only a few new small vehicles. Officially announced vehicles include the Ford Fiesta sedan and hatchback, arriving in 2010, and a rebadged Nissan Versa sedan that Chrysler LLC will sell as a Dodge or Chrysler in 2009.
General Motors is expected to roll out the 2009 Pontiac G3, basically a Chevrolet Aveo with a separately styled front-end design. Also likely for 2010 is the Chevrolet Beat three-door hatchback.
Iffy at best are one or two Chrysler LLC models from China's Chery Automobile Co. Chrysler has said it will sell current-generation Chery vehicles in developing markets, but those vehicles do not meet U.S. standards.
- Dodge or Chrysler hatchback (Nissan Versa-based)
- Honda hybrid hatchback
- Kia Soul
- Kia Spectra
- Mazda3 redesign
- Mazda Kabura
- Nissan Cube
- Pontiac G3
- Scion tC redesign
- Chevrolet Beat
- Ford Fiesta
- Honda CR-Z hybrid
- Mini crossover
- Saab 9-1
- Suzuki Swift
- Toyota Prius redesign
Based on announcements by automakers or conversations with industry sources
Cube is comingNissan Motor Co. is adding the Cube small car. Nissan has no immediate plans to speed up its launch, scheduled for the first quarter, spokesman Simon Sproule said in Tokyo.
Honda is juggling light-truck production in North America to make room for more small cars. Next year, the automaker plans to move Ridgeline pickup production from Canada to Alabama so it can build more Civics in Canada. Honda is also opening a factory in Indiana this year to further increase its capacity for Civics.
Meanwhile, the next-generation Fit is expected to arrive in the United States this fall. Spokeswoman Yasuko Matsuura said Honda does not plan to move up the car's launch date.
Despite waiting lists for the Prius hybrid, Toyota has not announced major increases in production capacity. Spokesman Paul Nolasco declined to comment on whether the company will increase production of the Prius, Yaris or Corolla.
Short-term fixesBecause of the long lead time to develop new vehicles, automakers will adopt short-term solutions to boost the fuel economy of current vehicles. GM and Ford will introduce smaller-displacement four-cylinder engines that will be turbocharged.
A slight improvement in fuel economy also can be gained by changing a vehicle's axle ratio. A lower numerical value in a small vehicle can increase fuel economy by about 1 mpg, says Jim Hall, director of industry analysis at 2953 Analytics in suburban Detroit. At least one automaker is heading in that direction, says Hall.
With a lower axle ratio, an engine revs lower when powering a vehicle. But the tradeoff for the lower fuel consumption is slower acceleration.
Says Hall: "The problem with axle ratios is, if you make the car too slow for the segment, you usually don't find out until the car is out."
Hans Greimel contributed to this report