The Demise of the Cheap, Small Car

The average new vehicle is now $48,000. And huge.

AP (“Looking for a new car under $20,000? Good luck. Your choice has dwindled to just one vehicle“):

Just five years ago, a price-conscious auto shopper in the United States could choose from among a dozen new small cars selling for under $20,000. Now, there’s just one: The Mitsubishi Mirage. And even the Mirage appears headed for the scrap yard.

At a time when Americans increasingly want pricey SUVs and trucks rather than small cars, the Mirage remains the lone new vehicle whose average sale price is under 20 grand — a figure that once marked a kind of unofficial threshold of affordability. With prices — new and used — having soared since the pandemic, $20,000 is no longer much of a starting point for a new car.

This current version of the Mirage, which reached U.S. dealerships a decade ago, sold for an average of $19,205 last month, according to data from Cox Automotive. (Though a few other new models have starting prices under $20,000, their actual purchase prices, with options and shipping, exceed that figure.)

The Mirage, with hatchback and sedan versions, costs less than half of what the average U.S. new vehicle does. That average is now just above $48,000 — 25% more than before the pandemic struck three years ago.

These pieces should use inflation-adjusted dollars to make comparisons meaningful. $20,000 today translates to $17,321 in 2020 (pre-COVID) and $16,847 in 2018 (five years ago) dollars. A 25% increase in three years sounds wild, until you factor in 18% inflation in the overall economy. $38,400 (the 2020 price) is $45,503 in today’s dollars.

Regardless, $48,000 a lot of money for most people.

After an anecdote about a little old lady looking to buy a new, small car we get this:

The scarcity of small cars at dealerships helps explain why the average new vehicle costs so much: Detroit’s Big Three automakers — General Motors, Stellantis and Ford — began to jettison the compact and subcompact car business about five years ago. Low profit margins for small cars and consumers’ increasing shift to SUVs and trucks made the decision an easy one. Likewise, Toyota and Honda later halted U.S. sales of their subcompacts.

Then a pandemic-related computer-chip shortage slashed global auto production. Vehicles were suddenly in short supply at a time of high demand. Prices shot up.

So, while pandemic-related pressures are part of the reason for sticker shock, the main issue is that the base product is changing. Customers are demanding bigger, more expensive vehicles. (And not just in America.) And even those who aren’t demanding them are being left with little choice because manufacturers are making more money on the widely popular vehicles.

Another factor that has swollen average prices is that 32 models in the United States now have selling prices above $100,000, according to Cox. As recently as 2018, only 12 models sold for over 100 grand.

Again, this is useless information. We’ve had 23% inflation since 2018. This explosion in $100,000 vehicles may well just be a function of cars that were $81,000 remaining flat in real pricing.

After more anecdotes about people frustrated by rising prices, we get this:

At White Bear Mitsubishi near St. Paul, Minnesota, where Schaeppi bought her vehicle, used cars are the main competition for the Mirage, according to Richard Herod III, the dealership’s managing partner. But because so few new small cars were sold in recent years, he said, the used-vehicle selection is low and prices are high.

A new Mirage, which costs about the same as a 4-year-old Chevrolet Cruze or Mazda 3, has a five-year, 60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty. Most used cars that age, Herod said, no longer include such warranties. The Mirage gets roughly 39 miles to the gallon, among the highest of any vehicle in the United States that isn’t hybrid or electric.

Still, the horsepower in its three-cylinder engine amounts to a tepid 76.

“It’s not going to win any drag races,” Herod said. “It’s not going to make you more popular at school. It’s the last honest affordable car in America.”

Despite the low price, U.S. sales of the Mirage have been sluggish. Mitsubishi sold only 5,316 in the first half of the year — 44% below the same period in 2022.

By contrast, the most popular vehicle for five decades running, the Ford F-150 pickup, sold 653,957 copies last year.

And it might not be available at all in a couple of years. The trade publication Automotive News reported last week that Mitsubishi will stop selling the Mirage by mid-decade. Mitsubishi, part of the Nissan-Renault alliance, declined to comment. But its website says production of the Mirage in Thailand, where it is built, is ending.

Once the Mirage disappears, Mitsubishi’s least expensive vehicle would be the Outlander Sport small SUV. It starts around $24,600, which includes shipping.

While that still sounds cheap, it’s a 25% increase in cost. That’s huge.

But $20,000 is an arbitrary number. There are several models slightly above that:

Even as the Mirage appears likely to be phased out, some other cars and SUVs have average sales prices only slightly above $20,000. They include the Kia Rio, the Nissan Versa, the Hyundai Venue and the Nissan Sentra. According to Cox, their prices range from $20,157 for the Rio to $23,994 for the Sentra.

Which are all cheaper than the Outlander Sport.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Tony W says:

    For decades I have wanted a small, good-quality car (Honda/Toyota/Subaru) that has some of the advanced safety and luxury features found on larger cars. We currently have a old-style Honda HRV built on a Honda Fit frame (a car which has been re-tooled for the larger CIVIC frame these days).

    I have never understood why comfortable is always shipped with HUGE.

    Smaller cars are so much easier to drive, park, garage, and afford the gas for.

  2. MarkedMan says:

    One thing that might factor into this is that the rise in leasing and the incredible increase in reliability have led to the increased value of those used cars. We have three year old cars with less than 50k miles on the clock hitting the market at steep discounts from when they were new. The buyers can easily expect to get 100K miles more on them, if they do the scheduled maintenance. As a comparison, the first car I drove, a ‘72 Chevy, had an odometer that only went to 99,999, and that was optimistic for the era.

  3. MarkedMan says:

    @Tony W:

    I have never understood why comfortable is always shipped with HUGE

    That’s primarily a North American phenomenon. Europe has a plethora of well outfitted, well built small cars and people seem to be willing to pay the premium.

    It says something about USA drivers that we skip over highly maneuverable small cars with short stopping distances to buy lumbering behemoths that protect occupants better in a crash.

  4. Ebenezer_Arvignius says:

    @MarkedMan: Viewed from Europe, it’s freakish. There is one F-150 in our town, and it stands out like a full truck in normal traffic. It can barely fit in most parking spots. 

    For comparison: the biggest car I ever drove was a Ford station waggon which is about a metre (40 in) shorter than the F-150 and whose ceiling barely reaches up to the side mirrors. And I considered that one to be an impractical monstrosity I kept mostly for its usefulness during family vacations.

  5. Scott says:

    I’ve always have preferred smaller cars for zipping around town (preferably two seat sports cars). But with the growth in size in vehicles, I feel like I’m dodging giants on the road. Used to be I could fit a minivan (Mercury Villager) and a Honda Civic in my garage. Barely fits one car.

    My son in his new job got a fully equipped F-250. When they visited, I had to move it and it was really clear to me that not only was the climb up into the cab ridiculous, I almost fell getting out of it. At least he uses it on the job hauling the valves and pumps he’s peddling. Most people use their pickups to get groceries.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @Tony W: @MarkedMan: I have Mazda’s previous 3-row SUV, the CX-9, and my wife has their small crossover, the CX-30. While the latter is zippier and more fun to drive, I find it uncomfortable at 6′ 1″ and 230.

    @Ebenezer_Arvignius: Most of my students drive 4-door pickups that don’t fit into parking spaces. It’s actually very hard to get in and out of parking spaces when you’re surrounded by them.

    @Scott: @MarkedMan: I do enjoy driving a zippier car. My old Nissan 350Z roadster was fantastic. But even that’s midsize by 1990s standards.

    But there’s something of a Gresham’s Law at work as well: When 90% of the vehicles on the road are huge, it’s unsafe in a small car. Not only from a crash survivability standpoint but also in terms of visibility.

  7. Neil Hudelson says:


    It can barely fit in most parking spots.

    While that has likely always been a bit of a problem with full size trucks in Europe, it’s compounded by the fact that our trucks have gotten ridiculously damn big.

    Due to my side-hustles, I’m one of the few urban dwellers who actually needs a pickup truck and I hate, hate, hate the options available to me now. I can choose between 5 or 6 models that take up two spots in my driveway instead of one, that’s an absolute pain to navigate narrow city streets, cost about $20K more than I’d like to reasonably spend, and which for some reason needs to have enough room in the cab for a medium-sized preschool class to play a Twister tournament, or I can try to find a 15-20 year old model that hasn’t been ridden hard, put away wet, and is about to fall apart.

  8. Jen says:


    It can barely fit in most parking spots.

    I’ll never forget what I saw in a Scottsdale parking lot…a full-sized Hummer parked *OVER* a spot in the subcompact parking area, with the wheels on the outside of the lines. That jerk effectively took up three parking spaces. Completely unnecessary, as the driver could have parked in two.

    I do not want to hear whining about gas prices from anyone in this country anymore.

  9. steve says:

    We have always had one small car for my wife and a large one for me, usually a pick up though now a SUV. Used to do a lot fo landscaping but getting older. The SUV is good for hauling all the food and gear for our large cooking events. Her smaller car is now a Kona which is a bit larger than she likes but she is in charge of flowers at our church so having the extra room in back helps and the old Rabbit didnt work as well, plus she wants 4 wheel drive for the snow.


  10. Sleeping Dog says:

    We followed someone in a newish F250 into the the Boston Common garage. At the entrance the garage has posted the maximum allowable height, IIRC is 78″. He either ignored it or didn’t know the trucks height till he hit the over height warning placard that hangs down before the entry gate.

    Yeah, vehicles, particularly light trucks have become too big, but cars are still smaller than they were in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.

  11. JohnSF says:

    Smaller is better, IMHO; but even in the UK the trend is to 4x4s/SUV’s.
    “You go off-road in yours?”
    “Oh yesss, everwah morning when I park on the pavement outside the school entrance!”
    They need the suspension travel, you see, to handle driving over the occasional small child.

    Meantime I’ll hang on to my little black SEAT.

  12. gVOR10 says:

    Our moderately large, but still easy to park, Honda minivan is our daily driver, but we’ve kept our 2004 Miata and our 2011 Mazda3, both Mazdaspeeds with turbos, big tires, and stiff springs, because what would be an improvement? They’re pushing a hundred K miles, but with any luck they have another 50 – 100 in them. Miatas have gotten expensive, but new 3s are available from the mid 20s.

  13. Kurtz says:

    They are a damn hazard. People can’t handle them or park them. They block the vision of people with normal cars. And people seem more likely to drive like sociopaths in them, though that’s anecdotal.

    People suck at understanding data. They see “safer in a crash” without trying to figure out if you’re more likely to be in a crash while driving one like it’s a Civic.

    ETA: links haven’t watched this yet, but found it via Jalopnik. according to IIHS, large suvs are more likely to hit pedestrians while turning and cause more damage when they do.

  14. Barry says:

    BTW, I saw a comparison of a 1980 F-150 with a current model. The 1980 model looked like an old Datsun half-ton pickup

  15. gVOR10 says:


    “You go off-road in yours?”
    “Oh yesss, everwah morning when I park on the pavement outside the school entrance!”

    There used to be a guy in the UK selling genuine Yorkshire mud in squeeze bottles. Monday morning you could spray some on your SUV and pretend it had left pavement. Is he still in business?

    Didn’t recognize the car. Don’t see a lot of SEATs over here. Like never. Ibiza?

  16. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner: I’ll admit I don’t have the data to back it up, but FWIW my gut feelings are:
    A) Just as safe in an accident where you hit a non-moving object in small cars than in big ones.
    B) Trucks and some SUVs don’t have as rigid safety requirements as cars of any size and are often less safe in an accident than a car (admittedly I haven’t seen data on this in the last ten years but it was definitely true in the past).
    C) if a big car or SUV not classified as a truck hits a small car or vice versa, the big car will likely come out ahead
    D) The best thing for preventing an accident is awareness, so driving a manual helps there. The next is stopping distance, so decently engineered small cars have a huge advantage there. And the third thing is maneuverability, so responsive, not over powered, small cars win out there.

    Voila, my Mini!

  17. gVOR10 says:

    My understanding is that Freud is no longer consider valid in psychology. But I’ve read a few articles about marketing SUVs and light trucks. The manufacturers know no one actually needs a Suburban. Their marketing seems to be pretty cynical and very Freudian. Mine’s bigger than yours. I’m above you. My Mazdaspeed3 has a grill expressly designed to look like a grin. Most big vehicles have grilles designed to intimidate.

    The classic ad was several years ago. A drawing of a Chevy blazer in life boat davits. Some text about protect your family and weather storms and safe, whatever. But at the bottom, the Chevy slogan, “Like a Rock”.

  18. Slugger says:

    How is this situation not creating a market niche for someone? Someone in China or India or even Vietnam must see this opportunity. Perhaps gasoline is just too cheap; let’s tax gasoline more.

  19. gVOR10 says:

    @MarkedMan: I haven’t researched it, but my impression is actual injury rates per mile used to favor small cars, for all the reasons you cite. Plus they’re just a smaller target. But as big vehicles have become preponderant it’s no longer true. Also, they spent the money to mitigate, not eliminate, the tendency to roll over. For which see Tiger Woods. But I’ll keep my small Mazdas and work to practice active defense. Which includes checking my mirrors if I really get on the brakes. An SUV hasn’t got a prayer of matching my stopping distances.

    I see a lot of articles lately about our loss of a sense of community and individualistic attitudes. SUVs seem an expression of that. I’m protecting me and my family and fwck everybody else.

  20. gVOR10 says:


    Perhaps gasoline is just too cheap; let’s tax gasoline more.

    Indeed. A carbon tax would be a classic example of a Pigouvian tax. A tax to offset the negative externality of an activity. In this case AGW.

    Biden is funding carbon removal technology. I tend to think this will not be terribly effective, but I’m in a mood of try anything and everything. But it provides an easy formula for a tax. A gallon of gasoline contains about 5.5 pounds of carbon, which will make 20 pounds of CO2. Figure what it would cost to scrub and store that and add it to the price of a gallon of gasoline. I have no idea how carbon removal costs work, but I suspect pricing gasoline to reflect externalities would end gasoline vehicles. So a phase-in might be necessary.

  21. Michael Reynolds says:

    I drive a Mercedes E 450 Cabriolet, which is a pointless vehicle to own, really, but I like convertibles. Great visibility when the top is down and all the safety gear you could want. Except, you know, for a roof.

    Our other car is a BMW X3 M40i (SUV) for carrying stuff. It does 0-60 in 4.4 seconds which, when you think about it, is not really necessary for hauling groceries. Not even if you have ice cream melting in the back.

    I don’t buy reasonable cars because of the used VW Bug I smashed into a cement truck (not technically the car’s fault), and the used VW bus that threw a rod on a German autobahn and for all I know is still on the side of the autobahn where I left it 50 years ago. And then there were the two slant sixes, a Dodge Dart and a Plymouth Valiant, both interestingly built entirely out of iron oxide, one left by the side of the road in Vermont, the other in a Publix parking lot in Florida.

    The point is, I paid my dues in shitty cars I could not count on to start. Or climb a hill. Cars where I could see the road through the floor. Just like Scarlett O’Hara, I shook my fist at the sky and cried, “As God is my witness, I’ll never crawl under a car again!”

    The secret reason why I always have an SUV and own it outright? The day may come when I go broke and have to sleep in my car. Be prepared!

  22. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I lived for a month-ish out of a ’98 Chevy Blazer. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a *little* extra room. But in a new F150 with a crew cab I would have more living space than my first apartment, and then where is the incentive for me to pull myself up by the bootstraps?

    You hear that conservative policy makers?!?! BIG TRUCKS CAUSE HOMELESSNESS. All those darn lazy homeless people you see are because these big ass trucks are removing their incentive to find a house. It’s science. Make Trucks Reasonably Sized Again!

  23. MarkedMan says:


    How is this situation not creating a market niche for someone?

    I suspect there is no niche. If there were that Mitsubishi would be flying out of the dealer lots, instead of selling 5K a year

  24. Mikey says:

    @Ebenezer_Arvignius: When I was stationed in Germany in the late 1980s, one of my co-workers brought over his 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. You know, it’s the size of a small boat, has huge tailfins, and those really cool “rocket” taillights. Getting that thing anywhere near the old city area of Nuremberg was basically impossible, and forget about any German Parkhaus.

    But he did get a lot of attention and ended up selling it to a German collector for a sizable pile of Deutschmarks.

  25. Daryl says:

    Get yourself a motorcycle.

  26. Mister Bluster says:
  27. JohnSF says:



    Indeed. Small engine, 1.4 L.
    But OTOH turbocharged and supercharged, so though it’s no supercar, it’s reasonably brisk. 😉
    And fairly nimble; I can take bends rather faster than most bigger RWD cars.
    When in the mood.

    Suspect the spray-on-mud guy may still have a market down in inner London; its a second home status thing. Massive 4×4 are widely known as “Chelsea Tractors” (after an upmarket London area) for good reason.
    IIRC the wealthy parts of London are by far the biggest market for lux SUV’s in the UK, despite being absurdly unsuited to the locality.
    While many actual country dwellers happily pootle about in small FWD hatchbacks.

  28. Kathy says:

    I haven’t shopped for a car since 2011. Back then, every salesperson in every dealership I visited, tried to get me interested in an SUV. At Toyota, it was the SUVs and the Prius.

    It’s natural enough. They get a bigger commission from selling a more expensive vehicle, for about the same work.

  29. Daryl says:

    @Neil Hudelson:
    You should look into JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) Trucks.
    Cheap, easy to park/store, and they have full-sized (4×6) beds…many with fold-down sides.

  30. becca says:

    Still driving the ‘97 Subaru hatchback. Manual transmission. Close to 250,000 miles. Still zippy. We will mourn the day the Green Bean dies.

  31. al Ameda says:

    I disagree with “the demise .. ” You can do it but if you have an aversion to Hondas, Toyotas or Subarus it it might be challenging.
    I’ve purchased two hybrid Toyota Priuses in a row now – in 2008 fr $16,000, and in 2017 for $24,000. I have no reason to change – 55 mpg, virtually no maintnance beyond regular oil changes at 7,500 miles, and new tires every 40-50K miles or so.

  32. DK says:

    Customers are demanding bigger, more expensive vehicles.

    And in a while, customers will be demanding smaller, less expensive vehicles.

    These things happen in cycles. Per a discussion yesterday, my mother and I both want new vehicles but are waiting for the huge expensive car fetish to cycle out. And it will.

  33. anjin-san says:

    I was toying with the idea of buying yet another sports car last year. My wife’s comment was, “and what will you put in it if there is a fire and we have to evacuate?”

    Now I’m driving a Mazda CX-5, which can carry a reasonable amount of cargo, looks sharp, and is actually pretty fun to drive. Great bang for the buck, which is something I always look for.

  34. Andy says:

    Americans prefer bigger vehicles, bigger vehicles are more profitable, and regulatory changes a decade ago incentivized building larger vehicles. There is a reason that the vast majority of vehicles sold today are classified as “light trucks” for regulatory purposes, a huge increase over the last couple of decades…

  35. Dave Schuler says:

    The methodology of the cited AP piece is a bit confusing. It doesn’t establish that cheap, small cars are vanishing from the market but that people aren’t buying them. That’s what using the average price rather than the base price tells us. And Andy above is right.

  36. James Joyner says:

    @al Ameda: But the Prius goes for north of $30,000, so not exactly cheap. And even the Sentras and Corollas of today are considerably bigger than their 1990 namesakes.

  37. Tony W says:
  38. Gustopher says:

    @Daryl: A lot of people need to start riding motorcycles.

    Swing state MAGA folks, certainly. Antivaxxers. Incels. People who apologize for having one too many items in express lanes at supermarkets.

    Can we a myth started that wind flowing through your hair will strip away those nasty covid vaccine risks, even from having people shed their vaccine on you?

    I am sure that we can gather data showing that people who ride motorcycles without a helmet have a lower risk of death from sudden heart attacks and blood clots than the general population.

  39. Gustopher says:

    Sometimes higher prices are actually for a better product. It’s rare, but it happens.*

    Cars last a lot longer today (and new safety features may increase that further by reducing likelihood of accidents). Before I lament the rising cost, I would want to see whether that is a rising cost per mile of the car’s lifetime.

    And then play with information about car loans, as the cost someone pays is with the financing.

    *: I cannot think of any other products where this is true, and suspect that long-lived combustion engines will be a problem going forward as we try to switch to electric naturally as people replace their cars, but those cars just live forever.

  40. Kurtz says:


    I have never been on a motorcycle before. But I must admit I want to try it. I can imagine really liking it.

    Two things hold me back right now:

    I live in a place where many people come to die and can’t see the giant SUV in front of them so are unlikely to see a motorcycle.

    The other is a serious fear of road rash. I’ll take a broken bone (with exceptions like femur, neck, back) over a bunch of peeled skin that hurt then itch then itch and hurt.

    To your point, the number of people I see riding bikes in athletic shorts and tennis shoes or sandals stuns me. Protect yourself ffs.

  41. Mister Bluster says:

    @Tony W:..Oh yeah?

    The largest ride I ever owned was a new 1992 Ford F-150 2 WD with an 8 ft bed. Used it on the job and drove it all over the country. Finally parked it after 320,000 miles.
    A truck I wish I still had was the 1960 F-100 that I bought in 1973. Towed/drove it from the midwest to California and sold it for plane fare back home.

    Disclaimer: Pics are stock photos. Not my trucks.

  42. Mister Bluster says:


    The largest ride I ever owned was a new 1992 Ford F-150 EXTENDED CAB 2 WD with an 8 ft bed.

  43. Sleeping Dog says:


    The answer to road rash is ATGATT, all the gear all the time. It’s amazing how far you can slide down a road and not tear away good riding gear and when you take it off, no rash.

  44. Kurtz says:

    @James Joyner:

    30k isn’t entirely crazy expensive at this point. The days of a sub-10k shiny, new shit box is long gone. But the need for several rolls of duct tape by year 3 likely persist.

    The Prius is certainly not cheap, but here are the ten cheapest new cars according to AutoTrader (as of June 1, 2023):

    2023 Nissan Versa: $15,830
    2023 Mitsubishi Mirage: $16,245
    2023 Kia Rio: $16,750
    2023 Hyundai Venue: $19,650
    2023 Kia Forte: $19,690
    2023 Subaru Impreza: $19,795
    2023 Kia Soul: $19,890
    2023 Nissan Sentra: $20,050
    2024 Chevrolet Trax: $20,400
    2023 Nissan Kicks: $20,440

    I have no idea what the outcome would be if one were to look at a well-designed analysis of true cost to own between each vehicle. But looking at the list, you have 1 American, 4 Korean, and 5 Japanese.

    No idea about the quality of the Chevy.

    Kia and Hyundai are certainly better than they were even 15 years ago, but I don’t think they can truly be placed alongside the manufacturers that consistently produce several high quality models.

    The half of the list occupied by Japanese automakers are a mixed bag. Suburu is solid, but my perception is that they are A/A+ tier, below the S tier Toyota and Honda. Nissan quality has plummeted since the start of their ever-changing agreement with Renault and Mitsubishi.* And Mitsu has been the cheap to make, cheap to buy, frequently in need of repair for a really long time.

    Granted, quality can range significantly within a brand, and within a model’s generation cycle. The question is whether a 50-100% premium for the Prius is worth it for better reliability, quality, gas mileage vs. the provided list.

    *And this is coming from a person who has owned a few Nissans–a couple Altimas and a Maxima. I currently drive a manual G37.

    But outside of the luxury badge (which still aren’t uniformly high quality) and their high-end sportscars/supercars (NISMO/GTR) they really ain’t what they used to be.

  45. DrDaveT says:

    The factoid that always boggled me, in terms of small versus cheap, is how much they wanted for a SmartCar, and how bad its mileage was. Seriously? A car that does everything badly except park should be dirt cheap.

  46. Just nutha ignint cracker says:


    [from your YouTube video] SUVs are a giant punch in the face…

    Sure, but what’s more American than wanting to punch someone in the face? Seriously. Even Gustopher wants to punch people in the face. Usually Nazis, but other people, too. The choices we make are reflective of who we are. The design elements of an SUV or large-scale pickup truck that creates circumstances where someone colliding with the vehicle will be pushed under the wheels is a choice on the part of both the designer and the consumer.

  47. Matt says:

    @gVOR10: When I drove a small sporty two seater I legit had a conversation along those lines with my manager at the time while we were standing out back on break. He was like “mines bigger and better” and I’m like it’s Beta alright… We were friends and just having fun but there’s no denying that people think their vehicle is a physical manifestation of their penis/ego…

    There’s at least a subconscious thing in people’s mind that when they see a small car they assume the driver is a small wimp. At least based on my experiences with people reacting to me when I get out of my car to talk face to face with them. I’m well over 6 foot and still fairly built and it seems to short circuit the brains of people for a second or two. For example the time I used a middle turning lane to turn and a woman in a big ol SUV didn’t like that. She pulled in behind me got out yelling about how I almost hit her. Until I got out of the car and asked if she wanted to call our insurance companies to let them know there was almost an accident. Literally she froze instantly in place looked me up and down and started backing up while awkwardly laughing. If she had been driving a properly sized vehicle she would of known there was plenty of space between us. This kind of thing happened more times than I would of liked. Especially considering the whole gun situation in the state….

  48. Thomm says:

    So….some points from someone in the weeds of the biz since 2009 and has done multiple roles in dealerships with VW, Chevy, Cadillac, Alfa-Romeo-fiat, Kia, Mazda, Hyundai, and a brief stint with a small independent used lot:
    1. The Mirage is a miserable, overpriced (really) bean-can that only sells to Merry Maids fleets or broke bad credit customers (no judgement. I have been there more than once in my life).
    2. The cost to manufacture a small car is close to the same as a larger vehicle and the reduced margins make them unattractive to all but few manufacturers in this market
    3. The culling of small car lines will bite some, but unless we have another 1973 or 1979, that market can be handled (in the US) by about 3 makers each with a different niche and price points
    4. The skinflint market really died when the Japanese sent over cars that were basically middle equipped as base models during the voluntary import restrictions in the 70s and 80s resulting in a customer base that now has expectations in what a basic car is equipped with (a passenger side mirror was still optional on a caddy until the early 80s).
    5. The elimination of real, base cheapskate models has reduced production costs and quality issues due to less variance on the lines
    5. What customers claim they want rarely is what they buy when the rubber hits the road, (heh. I see what i did there). People don’t buy the most basic models unless they truly have to because of…
    6. 75+% of buyers are payment buyers. They see the 25-50 dollar a month swing to be worth it to have more toys and a better interior environment
    7. Leasing is a big part of this as well. A payment customer can be an easy conversion from a buy to a lease if their ownership habits work for it. Dealers love leasors since we have a better chance of your business 2-4 years down the line, and the off lease cars make great pre-owned leading to…
    8. The customer now knows that these pre-owned off lease cars are better to purchase as they generally qualify for new car rates through captive finance companies, have a warranty extension, and someone else has paid some of the depreciation.

    I may be back later to address size things. Here is a quick fun one. A rav 4 has the same basic dimensions and shape as a 38 Plymouth.

  49. a country lawyer says:

    I’m a big guy, 6’3” and 215 pounds. (ten pounds above my Marine Corps weight, but that was more than forty years ago) so I gave up on sedans years ago. SUVs are just easier for me to get in and out. I’ve had 3 Grand Cherokees in a row, each with over 150,000 miles when I traded them in. My last was a GMC Acadia that I put over 200,000 miles on before I replaced earlier this year with a new one. My wife drives the smaller Terrain but I can’t fit behind the wheel. For use around the farm I have a Ram 4×4 king cab.

  50. Kathy says:


    I had a 1998 Nissan Altima. it was a nightmare. About four years in, something broke despite regular maintenance. In particular the cooling system. the radiator leaked, the fan belt broke, the thermostat perished. But other things, too, like the time the break lines leaked all the brake fluid out in under a minute.

    I’ve had a Corolla since 2011. It has not stopped running even once. I’ve replaced the battery and tires and break pads, and one time the alternator had to be fixed. Save for when the battery died, the car still ran merrily.

  51. Gustopher says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Sure, but what’s more American than wanting to punch someone in the face? Seriously. Even Gustopher wants to punch people in the face.

    Even Gustopher?

    My tolerance has a very sharp cliff. I go straight from “we should listen, and try to understand each other” to desires for violence. The number of people I want punched in the face is very high.

    There’s a Buddhist practice of loving-kindness (metta), where you try to cultivate your compassion by going through “I wish X well. I wish X health. I wish X happiness. I wish X freedom from fear” etc, and you’re supposed to do it for someone you like, a neutral person, and someone you have a difficult relationship with. And yourself.

    The Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program borrowed that meditation (along with insight meditation), and that was one of our regular exercises. The whole thing was very good at getting my anxiety under control, but required me to be desperate enough to give hippy-dippy shit a try*

    I’ve found it helpful to aim for wishing for only moderate inconvenience for the latter group, to try to smooth out that cliff. When I shared that with the group, they were all perturbed.

    *: ideally you are supposed to withhold judgement and commit to the program and then see what was useful. This is hard, and one of the other students was struggling and said so in the group session. I shared that I judge it the entire time, but that I recognize that my judgment hasn’t done me a lot of good, and so I just ignore that do the program anyway.

    The teacher of that group apparently still tells stories of me.

  52. IAC says:

    My 2013 Checy Spark cost $13,920 back then.
    If it hadn’t been Discontinued; that’s ~$18,200 now.
    It gets 32 & 43 mpg, and has plenty of Space for me, my Lunch Bag, & occasional Groceries.
    It might be an oversized Go Kart, but has one of the best Touch Screen Stereos that I’ve ever seen in any Car !

  53. Thomm says:

    Now truck sizing is a function of production efficiency as well. Previously 2wd and 4wd versions used slightly different frames with the 4wd having a higher ride height. Now it has been standardized to the 4wd frames. The actual measurements between an 80’s 4wd f150 and a modern one is within 2 inches in any dimension. The visual bulk and the mass move to 4wd frames makes it seem bigger. Cuv’s are a return to form from the, “lower, longer, wider” mantra in vehicle design that exner started in the 50’s. As mentioned, a rav 4 is very close dimensionally, and basic shape as a late 30’s car.

  54. Michael Reynolds says:

    This is one of the things I love about this site. Up pops a guy to lay out an obscure but very interesting perspective. I’ve always said my goal is to go to bed at night knowing something I didn’t know when I woke up that day.

  55. Jax says:

    @Kathy: I’ve had my Toyota Highlander since 2011, and only had one “major” part replacement, the water pump. I love my Highlander. She ZOOMS on the highway, when I want her to. She also handles dirt roads and snowbanks. I paid her off 6 years ago, and the only reason I would get a new one is to give her to my youngest when she goes to college.

  56. Jax says:

    @Michael Reynolds: It was the same for me the other day when the comment thread evolved into a Cromwell discussion. Then I had to google some shit, and I realized that what my dad always said “The day I quit learning something new is the day I should die” is very true. Every day is a good day, if you’re still learning something!

  57. Tony W says:

    @Mister Bluster: For a few years I had a 2014 Tundra with an 8′ bed, but it was just a bench seat.

    I can’t imagine the wheelbase on that old truck with an extended cab as well. Two spots minimum!

  58. joe says:

    @Daryl: with people using cellphones to facetime while driving? no thanks, I’ve given up on a real passion of mine.

  59. Ed B says:

    For years I have been amazed at the value of the vehicles I see driving down the road. This in contrast to the income/wealth of the people driving them. I have tended to buy cars new and drive them until they wear out. The whole borrow/lease thing seems to drive this. Ads for new cars almost never show the actual cash price, and people seem comfortable making perpetual monthly payments that are a very significant fraction of their income.

  60. E.A. Blair says:

    The first car I owned was featured in a 1969 Motor Trend article titled The Ten Best Cars Under $2,000 (that’s $17,173 in 2023 dollars). In the late 1980s, my father bought a car that had a bigger price tag than his house (not adjusted for inflation).

  61. grumpy realist says:

    I think it’s also the increasing number of bells and whistles we’re seeing in the higher-end cars, which require more and more computing power, which increase the prices, etc. And then people clamour for the same ability in the mid-priced cars, which causes (more abilities) but also (higher charges). Lane Keeping Assist, Controlled Braking, already-included electronic maps…

    I paid 16K back in the day for a 2014 Nissan Versa and have been very happy with it because it spins on a dime and gets great gas mileage. My major complaint about modern cars is because of all the extra electronic stuff in them you have to drive them more often to keep the batteries charged. Gone are the days when you could simply leave your car in the garage for three months or so.