DETROIT -- Theeeyyy're baaaaack.
Small cars -- snubbed by Americans since Ronald Reagan was president -- are being queued up as the next big thing to hit the U.S. market.
The North American International Auto Show here had new small cars or concepts from Ford, Toyota, Honda and Nissan.
For now, the new small cars are targeted for relatively modest volumes. But the popularity of small cars could grow if all the kids who grew up in living room-sized SUVs embrace smaller dimensions.
Honda CEO Takeo Fukui said in Detroit that he expects his little Japanese-built Fit, due here in April, to sell just 33,000 units in America this year. Toyota officials forecast that this year they will sell about 50,000 units of the Yaris, which is also coming here in the spring. For comparison, Honda sold 308,415 Civics in 2005.
Stephen Goodall, president of J.D. Power and Associates, says he believes the return of small cars is not a sudden reaction to higher American gasoline prices but simply another example of the industry's ongoing product proliferation.
"Small cars are the last little piece of their portfolios," Goodall says. "They've already created all the other important products -- now they're filling in the last hole with a small car.
"They're not envisioned to be big sellers," Goodall says. "But automaking is different today than it was back in the '80s. They've figured out how to make a profit selling 30,000 units of something today. They used to view 30,000 sales as a failure."