TOKYO -- The subcompact is back -- with a twist.
With gasoline prices hovering around $3 a gallon, automakers are rushing to introduce several subcompacts in the United States next year.
The cars will be more stylish, better equipped and pricier than their entry-level ancestors from the 1970s and 1980s. And if gasoline prices spike again, the anticipated revival of small-car sales could become a stampede.
Japanese automakers are ready to pounce with a batch of new products:
While the Japanese automakers are moving quickly, domestic automakers are still in the hunt. General Motors offers the Chevrolet Aveo, which is built by Daewoo. Ford Motor Co. plans to unveil a subcompact entry-level vehicle in 2007.
"Consumers are little-by-little starting to be convinced that high prices are here to stay," said Renault/Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn at a meeting with journalists at the Tokyo Motor Show last week. "They are probably shifting their attitude and behavior on the market."
Two factors are feeding the proliferation of subcompact nameplates. Automakers already sell these vehicles in Japan, Europe and South America, so they don't have to spend large sums on product development or build assembly plants.