Detroit’s Rebound Is Built on Smaller Cars

Highlights from NYTimes notesAfter years of being outgunned by Japanese rivals, the American auto industry has made small cars a central part of its strategy, seeking to capitalize on a fundamental shift in the preferences of consumers in an era of fast-rising gas prices.

By refocusing on small cars and de-emphasizing the gas-guzzlers that had long sustained the industry, General Motors and Ford in particular are preserving jobs and positioning themselves to prosper. Their efforts are already paying off in the marketplace. Ford’s tiny Fiesta is the best-selling subcompact in the United States this year, and G.M.’s Chevrolet Cruze outsold every other compact car in America last month except the segment-leading Honda Civic.

Nearly one in four vehicles sold in the United States in April was a compact or subcompact car, compared with one in eight a decade ago. Of the small cars sold in April, about 27 percent were American models, compared with 20 percent a year earlier. Data on sales in May will be released on Wednesday.

“There is a less-is-more mentality,” said Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive of the auto research site Edmunds.com. “The market demand and receptivity for these vehicles just didn’t exist four or five years ago.”

The transformation in Detroit was sparked by the worst financial crisis in generations, but was also assisted by an unusual set of circumstances.

The companies still earn far bigger profits on trucks and S.U.V.’s. But small cars are now commanding better prices in the showroom. A year ago, G.M.’s previous small sedan, the Chevrolet Cobalt, sold for an average price of $18,400, according to TrueCar.com. Last month, however, the typical Cruze sold for $20,600.

The companies still earn far bigger profits on trucks and S.U.V.’s. But small cars are now commanding better prices in the showroom. A year ago, G.M.’s previous small sedan, the Chevrolet Cobalt, sold for an average price of $18,400, according to TrueCar.com. Last month, however, the typical Cruze sold for $20,600.

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