Less Car Jason 09 Nov 2005

48 comments Latest by Berm Lee

It’s nice to see more “Less” trends these days. It finally appears that Less Car is taking root.

Here’s the key:

More than fuel prices, the increasing quality of cars at these low prices is driving the market, Hellwig said. Even the current version, let alone the redesigned Aveo, adds a bit of design flair to its bargain-basement functionality, he said. Not that it’s a great car. Cars at these prices don’t need to be great. They just have to be better than you expect, automotive marketing experts say.

The expectations game is often played so poorly. Any business that knows how to play this game has a huge advantage (more on this topic shortly).

48 comments (comments are closed)

beck 09 Nov 05

Why is Nissans styling soooo bad? I have always driven a small car. Anything bigger than a 3 series BMW is too big. Viva la hatchback!

Don Wilson 09 Nov 05

I saw this a few hours ago and thought that the Nissan was the only one I’d buy.

Jamie 09 Nov 05

I hope the Yugo makes a big comeback. It’s been long enough for it to be “cool” now.

Bernd 09 Nov 05

Any business that knows how to play this game has a huge advantage (more on this topic shortly).

Hey, what does this mean? Great things to happen soon? New product? New features? I’m quite courious. Am I overinterpreting?

Adam C 09 Nov 05

Does this just mean it’s the 70’s all over again? (Not in style but in the growth of the economy car market)

I don’t like to buy new but I suppose a cheap new car makes a cheaper used car.

Rich 09 Nov 05

If everyone had cars like that, I could drop the collision coverage on my SUV and just roll with liability coverage. :~P

Dan Boland 09 Nov 05

I’ve been screaming “less car” for a while now. I don’t get the obsession with huge cars. Is it to make parallel parking an even bigger challenge? All that gas money burning a hole in your pocket?

That said, there are times when I wish I had a bigger car (trips to Ikea being one such instance), but these times are so few and far between that it would be more cost-efficient for me to just rent a cargo van if and when I needed it then to buy an SUV instead of a smaller car.

I also don’t understand why people think that as soon as they have a kid or two, they need to plunk a down payment on an SUV or a minivan. Kids are small. Milk the tiny car as far as it can go.

Francis Wu: I also own an Echo, but I think it’s damn sexy. =) I was also sad when I learned that it’s being discontinued…

Matthew Turner 09 Nov 05

Do nissan selll the ‘Micra’ model in America, they are really small! I’ve been in a couple of Toyota Yaris’ and they’re fun cars to drive. Well made too.

Adam 09 Nov 05

I bought a Focus SVT just for this reason. Good styling, very comfortable interior, extremely nimble, a hatchback, and 32mpg freeway for less than $15k.

The non SVT would have run $10k with even better mileage but minus some of the creature comforts and pep.

As beck put it, “Viva la hatchback!”

Absconditus 09 Nov 05

With GM vehicles I always expect the worst. So in that regard I guess they play the game well.

Michael Spina 09 Nov 05

I’m so glad the industry is embracing the hatchback. Cars this small usually need to be hatchbacks, but for years companies would hack them into tiny, akwardly proportioned “sedans.” Like the Echo, which is just a Yaris (older generation) with a trunk. The foreign hatchback model just looked so much more right. Bring ‘em on!

jordan 09 Nov 05

The thing that fascinates me is how legions of college students can apparently afford horribly wasteful vehicles, and additionally afford to be buying new parts for them on a regular basis.

I’ve not yet had to buy a car (using my parents’, as I’m living at home for the time being), but when I do I know I’ll not spend more than $3000-$4000USD on it, and it’ll be very efficient. I simply can’t afford anything else—besides, even if I could, what would be the point?

sb 09 Nov 05

“Kids are small. Milk the tiny car as far as it can go.”

don’t have kids, huh? i have problems getting my 4 year old twin out of a fullsize minivan. putting the carseats in the back of my mother-in-law’s volkswagon cabrio takes a good 20 minutes in itself. there’s nothing like being kicked in the middle of the back by an well-meaning toddler for 30-40 miles to make you say, “you know, a mini-van isn’t all that bad.”

Francis Wu 09 Nov 05

Dan Boland: Gross :P! Gotta love the storage though!… Did it take you a while to get used to the dash though? When I drive at night it often feels like I don’t have my headlights turned on simply because the dashboard isn’t glowing in front of me…

Absconditus: I found GM’s “employee prices” campaign pretty funny. Not only did it say “we’re totally desperate at this point”, but I found it ironic ‘cause I doubt if GM factory employees can even afford the cars they build.

Chris S 09 Nov 05

Ever spent any time carrying a wife, two growing boys and a dog in a compact vehicle on any trip lasting longer than 40 minutes??

Sorry, but when it comes to vehicles, more is more, and I’d rather budget my gas and drive a little less than cram in like sardines. Of course, most off-road vehicles aren’t aimed at those of us who regularly take them off road, they’re aimed at yuppies and suppies (suburban yuppies), but that’s a different gripe.

I prefer trucks. Taking a Saturn deep into the woods and hauling out a field-dressed deer carcass on a tarp in the back seat does nothing but anger the wife and get you funny looks at stoplights.

Francis Wu 09 Nov 05

Chris S: Good point, but the idea is you should be driving what you need. If you’re one guy then you don’t really an H2 to show people how big your p*nis is… uh, I mean… to get from one place to another. So if you’re a family, might as well go with something sensible like a sedan or a minivan. If you’re one of those whacky families with one too many children, might as well drive a short yellow bus :P.

Dan Boland 09 Nov 05

Francis: The only thing that took getting used to with the Echo was the windshield wipers… the “single wipe/auto wipe” directions were backwards from my previous car. But I do indeed love that trunk.

sb/Chris S: I was being facetious, duh.

Chris S 09 Nov 05


Well, if I’m single and I can afford a Hummer, and I just like em for whatever reason, so what?

One person’s need is another person’s want. Nobody “needs” DSL, a Powerbook, cigars, Jack Daniels, iPod video, a brand new car, a boat, CD collections, eating at restaurants (fast food, fancy, or whatever).

Brandon 09 Nov 05

I just can’t drive a small car. I have a BIG truck (Avalanche) - 4 doors, plenty of room. It’s just not practical for a family of 4 to be cramming into a sardine can. We have strollers, car seats, toys, DVD players, etc.

I know that gas is outrageous, but I won’t sacrifice comfort for gas mileage when it means cramming into a car that I can barely even fit in (I’m 6’ 2”).

I would love to see a good hybrid SUV or truck (one that actually got good gas mileage) but until then, I guess my 14 MPG city will have to do.

And before you complain that my truck is killing the environment and using valuable fossil fuels you need to look at the serious consumers… cities and governments. They use tons of fossil fuels every day and most don’t seem to even be trying alternatives such as methane powered transit.

I like my big truck… and don’t mind paying $2/gallon while I can afford it.

Francis Wu 09 Nov 05

Chris S: Lemme rephrase that. The idea is to be responsible and sensible about our consumption. There, broad enough :).

A Steve 09 Nov 05

Francis: factory workers can most certainly afford GM cars… they’re paid quite well for the jobs they do.

Sage 09 Nov 05

Come next year, I will probably get a Nissan Versa or Honda Fit � I�ve been waiting for so long for these wonderful smallmobiles to come stateside (com�n Europe, share the wealth! or the frugality). I�m the type who would go for a motorcycle as my main mode of transportation (I don�t carry a lot of stuff), if it weren�t for that pesky issue of, you know, falling off. Thank goodness carmakers are starting to bring these small �uns to us.

Anonymous Coward 09 Nov 05

A Steve: “they�re paid quite well for the jobs they do.” Well well, looks like you may be right… so far.

Francis Wu 09 Nov 05

Oops, that last Anonymous message… that was me :P.

Noah 09 Nov 05

I just sold a fully loaded 1998 Ford Windstar with the split port 3.8L leather and the JBL sound system and got a 1990 Volkswagen Golf base model with an 8v 1.8L. Why? The van was expensive to fix, ate gas like a pig and expensive to have collision coverage on. The gas was a big issue. Also parking it was less than fun, minivans don’t exactly ZIP into a stall.

Alison 09 Nov 05

I grew up in a family of four, and my family drove a Honda Accord all my childhood. I don’t remember the lack of “space” of a minivan or truck ever seeming like a burden.

beck 09 Nov 05

Our family of 6 rode in a 85 Maxima wagon. It was the first talking car I had ever been in. “your lights are onnn”. It made 22 mpg highway… that’s 2mpg short than the “Most Efficient” SUVs for the year 2006.

You would think after 20 years we would be getter better at increasing the range on a gallon of gas.

elv 09 Nov 05

Here in Paris Smart cars are all around. Of course you won’t make a long trip in a Smart… The point here is not to say everyone should drive small cars.
In Europe people in big cities have quite small cars. They don’t drive long distances so it’s a viable solution. Some people just hire a bigger car or a van when they really need more space.
Recently several very small cars appeared on the market, like the Peugeot 107 (http://www.107.peugeot.fr/)

Don Schenck 09 Nov 05

One person�s need is another person�s want. Nobody �needs� DSL, a Powerbook, cigars, Jack Daniels, iPod video

What? WHAT?

Speak for yerself … I need my Fuente Sungrowns!!!

warren 09 Nov 05

It’s called “worse is better”. Google for it.

Stop putting a new name on old ideas. For the love of god.

Tom 10 Nov 05

Less is more?

Lau T. 10 Nov 05

The Yaris has been in sold in Europe for years. I don’t prefer those kind of cars, but my favorite of these types is probably the newest Lancia Ypsilon (http://www.irancar.com/images/Gallery-larg-1024-768/Lancia/lancia_ypsilon_2003_03_m.jpg)

For people not going off-road, that don’t need all the space in the big SUVs, I would suggest estate cars instead, such as Volvos V series, BMW Touring, Audi Avant etc. They are faster, safer, handle better, brake better.

Hybrids aren’t that great. A turbo diesel can get better milage. The turbo diesel VW Lupo 3L, now discontinued, can go 100km on 3 liters of diesel, hence the name. (that’s around 80mpg). The Lupo is very small, though. But the new diesel BMW 530d Touring, a descent sized car with good performance, does 13.9 km/l (~33mpg). It’s got 218bhp and does 0-100 kmh in 7.2 seconds. And has more torque than the Hummer H2 (yeah, the rebodied Chevy Tahoe).

The less powerful 163 hp 520d Touring does 16.4 km/l (39mpg).

The US government has made a rule that makes it possible for self employed people to let their company buy a truck and deduct it for tax reductions. But it has to be really heavy. That is one regulation that makes it relatively more expensive to drive a lighter vehicle.

pk 10 Nov 05

i fell in love with the tiny mercedes a class when i was teaching in portugal around 2000. do people still like those?

so cute, like little candies.

Peter 10 Nov 05

Still don’t know why the Smart did not make it to the US

JP 10 Nov 05

In the UK I see an increasing number small MPV’s. These are realy just standard family hatchbacks with a bit more headroom. The Seat Altea is a good example. A case of less with a little bit more.

Bill 10 Nov 05

It would seem to me blindingly obvious that there are advantages and disadvantages to different types of car and if you have any sense you match car to need. If you don’t you get the laughable sight of a Hummer being used exclusively to scale the north face of the school car park or someone trying to off-road a Mini.

If you mostly use a car for journeys of less than 20 miles or in town, I’d say a small car makes perfect sense. If you have a large family then you need an mpv. It’s not hard.

beck 10 Nov 05

I have seen a few Smart cars parked around the nightclub district in my town. I don’t believe they are driven, they are used for advertising. Another trend that is booming… the motor scooter… they are everywhere in my town.

brad 10 Nov 05

To me “less car” isn’t so much about size, but simplicity.

For the first time in my life I have a car with electric windows and I absolutely hate them. I much prefer hand cranks. A bunch of bells and whistles came with this car that I will never use (there was one safety feature that I wanted, and in order to get it I had to buy a whole package with extra stuff I don’t want or need).

My next car will be totally basic: manual windows, no cruise control, etc. I don’t want or need GPS, OneStar or whatever you call it, satellite radio, tire pressure indicators, outdoor thermometers, altimeters.

beck 10 Nov 05

I agree brad. All those electronics = weight or an electrical load that ultimately strains your engine. I remember my old VW had a manual sunroof… I thought it was cool.

uht oh 10 Nov 05

did you guys lose your 37s.com domain? is this part of your less campaign?

GWG 10 Nov 05

Regarding family transport, the real key for my family (with carseats and infant carriers) is the size and shape of the door combined with the distance between the front seat-back and the rear seat-back. This is the area that requires us to thread the needle with our infant car seat.

Outside of that, I don’t care how large the vehicle is.

However, there is a very real danger when a smaller vehicle collides with a larger truck or SUV. That is not a fallacy. Unfortunately, the solution that most people take is to try to buy the largest car and play “Large vs. Large” instead of everyone playing “small vs. small”. Small vs. Small would be safer than Large vs. Large.

Alexandre Simard 10 Nov 05

OK, not a fallacy, more of a variant of the prisonner’s dilemma, as you put it. The obession over crash resistance (i.e. only the bumper scratched) means that big vehicles generate the need for big vehicles. There’s no clear way to stop this vicious circle.

The best way to survive a crash is still to avoid it. This is called active security and is highly dependent on vehicle dynamics. Less weight gives better dynamics by default. So small cars are the winners here.

Dan Hartung 10 Nov 05

Francis: The Chevy Aveo was originally based on a Daewoo car, so there’s definitely an Asian design tilt.

Colin 11 Nov 05

I don’t know whether you guys in the US have any equivalent of the Euro MCAP crash tests we have in the EU. Their star rating system for crash safety makes it VERY obvious that crash safety has almost no correlation with vehicle size. The Yaris does better than many SUVs I believe.

Berm Lee 11 Nov 05

A coworker used to volunteer for these guys, who designed a smart two-seater electric that was intended from the ground up for typical commuter usage.

It’s narrow. The passenger sits behind the driver.

All the batteries on the bottom stabilizes the ride, and it can share a lane like a motorcycle can, and you can park four of them in the space of one when street parking.

0 to 60 in 4 seconds, top speed of 150 mph, 60 - 80 miles per full charge.