A new generation of small cars and wagons is about to hit the United States, but they won't be like the 1970s-era econoboxes.
Automakers are launching a wave of small vehicles with flexible passenger compartments and in-your-face exteriors - an attractive combination for the millennial generation of first-time buyers in their 20s.
Several of these vehicles were unveiled Sept. 23 at the Paris auto show:
In addition, Honda may introduce a version of the Japan-market Fit minicab next year. And in 2007, Nissan will import a small vehicle - possibly a version of the next-generation Cube.
Among the Big 3, Ford Motor Co. is expected to decide this year whether to introduce a vehicle smaller than the Focus. Most likely it would be a variant of the Mazda minicab.
Chevrolet added the Daewoo-designed Aveo this year and next year will follow with the retro HHR wagon.
The bottom line: After decades of neglect, the market for small vehicles is poised for growth. Small cars and trucks will generate 22.4 percent of U.S. light-vehicle sales in 2009, predicts Michael Robinet, an analyst at consulting company CSM Worldwide Inc., in Farmington Hills, Mich. That's up from 19.7 percent last year, or 3.3 million units.
Vehicles in this segment include traditional small cars and wagons such as the Focus, Chevrolet Cavalier and Chrysler PT Cruiser. More recent entrants include SUVs such as the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V.