After several big years for small cars, larger sedans and trucks are returning to the forefront, even as gasoline prices remain high.
Sales of subcompacts such as the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris were down 7 percent year-over-year in January and February, while mid-sized cars were up 8 percent. Sales of compact cars were up 7 percent overall but down for the majority of individual models, including the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus and Honda Civic.
Several new mid-sized cars, including the redesigned Ford Fusion and Honda Accord, are helping to pull shoppers away from smaller alternatives. In addition, improvements in the fuel economy of many mid-sized cars mean consumers now can save money on gasoline without drastically reducing the size of their vehicles.
"Today's mid-sized sedans get the same or better gas mileage as the compact sedans five years ago," said TrueCar.com analyst Jesse Toprak. "Consumers have certainly gotten accustomed to living with high-level gas prices, so there's no more of that knee-jerk reaction."
That rationality was particularly striking in February, when gasoline prices rose 36 cents a gallon to a national average of $3.78 a gallon, according to AAA. Yet light-truck sales increased 8 percent from a year ago and car sales were flat.
Market share for full-sized pickups climbed to 11.9 percent, from 10.7 percent a year ago. Their sales are up 21 percent through February, compared to 8 percent for all vehicles.
Meanwhile, sales of the Toyota Prius, a compact hybrid for which demand historically closely tracked gasoline prices, decreased 14 percent last month.
Another factor eating into small-car sales is the introduction of even smaller models, so-called minicars. In February, Chevy sold 2,836 Sparks, while sales of the bigger and more expensive Sonic fell 24 percent.
Combined sales of the Ford Fiesta and Focus were down 11 percent, or 3,045 units, in February, while Fusion sales increased 28 percent, or 6,102 units. The Fusion's higher price makes that shift a net positive for Ford's bottom line.