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Small Car(s), Big Deal - Part II

Opel Astra

Coming soon to a dealer near you...

Last time we featured the new, upcoming Mazda2 compact. Staying with that small car thought, this week we’ll take a quick look at a few more compacts coming down the turnpike in the next year or so. Does all of this small-time activity signal the end (finally) of Americans’ appetite for buying more vehicle than they really need? It will if automakers have finally noticed that the light at the end of the tunnel wasn’t that of a Chrysler Aspen/Ford Explorer/Chevy Tahoe happily returning home; no, that light was one of those “idea lightbulbs” which said “OMGifwedon’tstartbuilding somesensiblesmallcarswe’llbedeadinthewater!”

(That last sentence sounds much better if you can get one of those guys to read it who does disclaimers at the end of car-dealer commercials.)

Saab "9-1"
New Buick compact

If you’re not sick to death of hearing about the soon-to-come new Ford Focus—which I believe was announced during the Eisenhower administration (or at least it seems that long ago)—don’t look now, but it’s rumored that a Mercury version will follow in its tracks. Probably called the Tracer, just like Mercury versions of the Escort were called back in the 1980s and 1990s. My vote would have gone for calling it Bobcat, which was the Mercury version of the Ford Pinto back in the 1970s. Tracer is too blah, and if Bobcat for some reason reignites memories of Ford’s Pinto (sorry about that), then why not reach back a bit further and call the new car Comet, Mercury’s version of the 1960s Ford Falcon and the 1970s Ford Maverick. All of which raises the question: Has there ever been a Mercury which wasn’t a version a Ford something? And if not, why does Mercury even exist as a brand? Why not just gussy-up a few Fords and charge more for them at the Ford dealer? Look for the Tracer to probably go on sale in 2011 as a 2012 model.

On a brighter note, Buick looks like it’s set to produce its first compact since the Skylark went away after the 1998 model year. And even though it will probably be based on the German Opel Astra and soon-to-be on sale Chevy Cruze, don’t expect it to be a mere knockoff like Mercury’s Tracer. Buick is too important to the survival of General Motors for them to start badge-engineering again—which is partly what got them into trouble back in the 1980s and 1990s. Too many versions of the same car. Expect it to look quite a bit different from the Cruze, and with a much more luxurious interior with more top-end features. There are plenty of potential compact Buick buyers, still lamenting the demise of the Skylark, who wouldn’t buy a Chevy if you put their feet to the fire. And it will be huge in China too, which presently is Buick’s largest market.

Other potential compacts: If Saab is actually able to survive under new owner Spyker, expect to see a smaller car than the current 9-3, probably called the 9-1. Spyker is on record as saying that if the smaller-car market seems strong enough to support another player, they’ll jump in. Of course they never mentioned where the money would come from to build this Audi A1/BMW 1-Series competitor. But the rendering does look cool.

Not really a potential compact, as they are being introduced in other markets, Mercedes-Benz is coming out with new versions of its A and B series of cars, which up to now haven’t been available in the US, although Canadians have had access to the original models. Will the current market dictate Mercedes-Benz sell their small cars here? We’ll see. A lot will depend on whether Audi makes the A1 available here, and how well the BMW 1-Series does in our market. At any rate, the next few years will be interesting (again) for small-car buyers.

You can find Small Car, Big Deal Part 1 here. Read “You Auto Know” every other week in Artvoice and more often on AV Daily at Plus check out Jim’s bolog:

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