DETROIT -- Get ready for a bloody battle in the small-car segment.
Compacts and subcompacts grabbed the spotlight at the Detroit auto show.
The wraps came off several Asian entries, including a redesigned Honda Civic, a downsized Toyota Prius and a small sporty coupe from Hyundai called the Veloster. But this time those traditional small-car stalwarts face competition from the Detroit 3's most serious offerings in decades.
"This is arguably the first time we've had a collection of smaller vehicles from the domestics that is truly competitive," says Jeff Schuster, head of global forecasting for J.D. Power and Associates.
General Motors Co. unveiled the subcompact Chevrolet Sonic, which will take on the Honda Fit, the recently launched Ford Fiesta and others.
Ford Motor Co. will put its redesigned Ford Focus up against the recently launched Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra and others. Chrysler Group partner Fiat is rolling out its 500 minicar.
The domestic brands are putting down roots in a small-car segment that should grow faster than the broader market in coming years -- especially if gasoline prices continue marching higher. And small cars will help with fuel-economy standards that get steadily tougher through 2016.
The entries also highlight automakers' fresh view of small cars. These are no longer loss leaders that car companies tolerate so they can meet corporate average fuel economy standards, allowing them to sell higher-margin, gas-thirsty pickups and SUVs. High-end content on the latest small cars -- think elaborate infotainment systems and heated steering wheels -- are nudging prices and profits higher.
"It's an area of the market that's just exploding," says Margaret Brooks, Chevrolet's small-car marketing director. "The ones doing best in the segment are much more upscale than anything that was available just one or two years ago."
Luxury brands also are seeking growth in small cars. Upcoming debuts include the Lexus CT 200h hybrid hatchback and BMW AG's front-drive compact, code-named the UKL. Buick will try to undercut most premium compacts on price with its new Verano, which goes on sale late this year.