The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and Japan and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject.(October 2020)
Compact car is a vehicle size class — predominantly used in North America — that sits between subcompact cars and mid-size cars. "Small family car" is a British term and a part of the C-segment in the European car classification. However, prior to the downsizing of the United States car industry in the 1970s and 1980s, larger vehicles with wheelbases up to 110 in (2.79 m) were considered "compact cars" in the United States.
In Japan, small size passenger vehicle is a registration category that sits between kei cars and regular cars, based on overall size and engine displacement limits.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Fuel Economy Regulations for 1977 and Later Model Year (dated July 1996) includes definitions for classes of automobiles. 100–109 cu ft (2.8–3.1 m3).Based on the combined passenger and cargo volume, compact cars are defined as having an interior volume index of
The beginnings of U.S. production of compact cars were the late 1940s prototypes of economy cars, including the Chevrolet Cadet and the Ford Light Car. : 214 Neither car reached production in the U.S., however Ford SAF in France bought the plans of the "small Ford" and produced the Ford Vedette. : 214
The first U.S produced compact car was the 1950 Nash Rambler. It was built on a 100-inch (2,540 mm) wheelbase, which was nonetheless still a large car by contemporary European standards. : 214 The term "compact" was coined by a Nash executive as a euphemism for small cars with a wheelbase of 110 inches (2,794 mm) or less. It established a new market segment and the U.S. automobile industry soon adopted the "compact" term.
Several competitors to the Nash Rambler arose from the ranks of America's other independent automakers, although none enjoyed the long-term success of the Rambler. Other early compact cars included the Kaiser-Frazer Henry J (also re-badged as the Allstate), the Willys Aero and the Hudson Jet.
In 1954, 64,500 cars sold in the U.S. were imports or small American cars, out of a total market of five million cars. Market research indicated that five percent of those surveyed said they would consider a small car, suggesting a potential market size of 275,000 cars.By 1955, the Nash Rambler that began as a sideline convertible model became a success and was now available in station wagon, hardtop, and sedan body styles. During the Recession of 1958, the only exception to the sales decline was American Motors with its compact, economy-oriented Ramblers that saw high demand among cautious consumers.
By 1959, sales of small imported cars also increased to 14% of the U.S. passenger car market, as consumers turned to compact cars.By this time, smaller cars appealed to people with a college education and a higher income whose families were buying more than one car. Customers expected compact cars to provide improved fuel economy compared to full-sized cars, while maintaining headroom, legroom, and plenty of trunk space.
Between 1958 and 1960, the major U.S. car manufacturers made a push towards compact cars, resulting in the introduction of the Studebaker Lark, Chevrolet Corvair, Ford Falcon, and Plymouth Valiant.These models also gave rise to compact vans built on the compact car platforms, such as the Studebaker Zip Van, Chevrolet Corvair Greenbrier, Ford Econoline, and Dodge A100.
During the 1960s, compacts were the smallest class of North American cars, but they had evolved into only slightly smaller versions of the 6-cylinder or V8-powered six-passenger sedan. They were much larger than compacts (and sometimes even mid-sizers) by European manufacturers,which were typically five-passenger four-cylinder engine cars. Nevertheless, advertising and road tests for the Ford Maverick and the Rambler American made comparisons with the popular Volkswagen Beetle.
Compact cars were also the basis for a new small car segment that became known as the pony car, named after the Ford Mustang, which was built on the Falcon chassis. At that time, there was a distinct difference in size between compact and full-size models, and early definitions of vehicle size class were based on wheelbase, with models under 111 inches as compact, 111 to 118 inches intermediate, and over 118 inches as full size,[ citation needed ] at least until EPA classes based on interior volume of the passenger and cargo compartments were introduced in the later 1970s.
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In the early 1970s, the domestic automakers introduced even smaller subcompact cars that included the AMC Gremlin, Chevrolet Vega, and Ford Pinto.
In 1973, the Energy Crisis started, which made small fuel-efficient cars more desirable, and the North American driver began exchanging their large cars for the smaller, imported compacts that cost less to fill up and were inexpensive to maintain.
The 1977 model year marked the beginning of a downsizing of all vehicles, so that cars such as the AMC Concord and the Ford Fairmont that replaced the compacts were re-classified as mid-size, while cars inheriting the size of the Ford Pinto and Chevrolet Vega (such as the Ford Escort and Chevrolet Cavalier) became classified as compact cars. Even after the reclassification, mid-size American cars were still far larger than mid-size cars from other countries and were more similar in size to cars classified as "large cars" in Europe. It would not be until the 1980s that American cars were being downsized to truly international dimensions.
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In the 1985 model year, compact cars classified by the EPA included Ford's Escort and Tempo as well as the Chevrolet Cavalier. For the 2019 model year, the best sellers were the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic.
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In Japan, vehicles that are larger than kei cars, but with dimensions smaller than 4,700 mm (185.0 in) long, 1,700 mm (66.9 in) wide, 2,000 mm (78.7 in) high and with engines at or under 2,000 cc (120 cu in) are classified as "small size" cars.
Small size cars are identified by a licence plate number beginning with "5". In the past, the small size category has received tax benefits stipulated by the Japanese government regulations, such as those in the 1951 Road Vehicle Act.
In 1955, the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry set forth a goal to all Japanese makers at that time to create what was called a "national car". The concept stipulated that the vehicle be able to maintain a maximum speed over 100 km/h (62 mph), weigh below 400 kg (882 lbs), fuel consumption at 30 km/L (85 mpg‑imp; 71 mpg‑US) or more, at an average speed of 60 km/h (37 mph) on a level road, and not require maintenance or significant service for at least 100,000 km (62,000 mi). This established a "compact car" target that was larger than what has become known as the "light car" or the kei car.
One of the first compact cars that met those requirements was the Toyota Publica with an air-cooled two-cylinder opposed engine, the Datsun 110 series, and the Mitsubishi 500. The Publica and the Mitsubishi 500 were essentially "kei cars" with engines larger than regulations permitted at the time, while the Datsun was an all-new vehicle. These vehicles were followed by the Hino Contessa in 1961, the Isuzu Bellett, Daihatsu Compagno and Mazda Familia in 1963, the Mitsubishi Colt in 1965, and the Nissan Sunny, Subaru 1000, and Toyota Corolla in 1966. Honda introduced its first four-door sedan in 1969, called the Honda 1300. In North America, these cars were classified as subcompact cars.
By 1970, Nissan released its first front-wheel-drive car that was originally developed by Prince Motor Company which had merged with Nissan in 1966. This was introduced in 1970 as the Nissan Cherry. In 1972, the Honda Civic appeared with the CVCC engine that was able to meet California emission standards without the use of a catalytic converter.
A sport utility vehicle or SUV is a car classification that combines elements of road-going passenger cars with features from off-road vehicles, such as raised ground clearance and four-wheel drive.
A pickup truck or pickup is a light-duty truck that has an enclosed cabin and an open cargo area with low sides and tailgate. In Australia and New Zealand, both pickups and coupé utilities are called utes, short for utility vehicle. In South Africa, people of all language groups use the term bakkie, a diminutive of bak, Afrikaans for "bowl" or "container".
The AMC Gremlin is a subcompact automobile introduced in 1970, manufactured and marketed in a single, two-door body style (1970–1978) by American Motors Corporation (AMC), as well as in Mexico (1974–1978) by AMC's Vehículos Automotores Mexicanos (VAM) subsidiary.
A station wagon or estate car, is an automotive body-style variant of a sedan/saloon with its roof extended rearward over a shared passenger/cargo volume with access at the back via a third or fifth door, instead of a trunk/boot lid. The body style transforms a standard three-box design into a two-box design — to include an A, B, and C-pillar, as well as a D-pillar. Station wagons can flexibly reconfigure their interior volume via fold-down rear seats to prioritize either passenger or cargo volume.
American Motors Corporation was an American automobile manufacturing company formed by the merger of Nash-Kelvinator Corporation and Hudson Motor Car Company on May 1, 1954. At the time, it was the largest corporate merger in U.S. history.
Rambler is an automobile brand name that was first used by the Thomas B. Jeffery Company between 1900 and 1914.
A hatchback is a car body configuration with a rear door that swings upward to provide access to a cargo area. Hatchbacks may feature fold-down second row seating, where the interior can be reconfigured to prioritize passenger or cargo volume. Hatchbacks may feature two- or three-box design.
Personal luxury car is a North American car classification describing somewhat sporty, sophisticated mass-market coupés that emphasized comfort over performance. The North American manufacturers most often combined engineering, design, and marketing to develop upscale, distinctive "platform sharing" models that became highly profitable.
The Hudson Motor Car Company made Hudson and other branded automobiles in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., from 1909 until 1954. In 1954, Hudson merged with Nash-Kelvinator to form American Motors Corporation (AMC). The Hudson name was continued through the 1957 model year, after which it was discontinued.
Governments and private organizations have developed car classification schemes that are used for various purposes including regulation, description, and categorization of cars.
Subcompact car is a North American classification for cars smaller than a compact car. It is broadly equivalent to the B-segment (Europe), supermini or A0-class (China) classifications.
Mid-size—also known as intermediate—is a vehicle size class which originated in the United States and is used for cars larger than compact cars and smaller than full-size cars. "Large family car" is a UK term and a part of the D-segment in the European car classification. Mid-size cars are manufactured in a variety of body styles, including sedans, coupes, station wagons, hatchbacks, and convertibles. Compact executive cars can also fall under the mid-size category.
Full-size car—also known as large car—is a vehicle size class which originated in the United States and is used for cars larger than mid-size cars, it is the largest size class for cars. In Europe, it is known as E-segment or F-segment.
A compact sport utility vehicle or compact SUV is a class of small sport utility vehicles that is larger than mini SUVs, but smaller than mid-size SUVs. However, there is no official definition of the size or dimensions for this market segment. Moreover, some manufacturers have marketed the same model name on different sized vehicles over time. The most common distinction between versions of crossover automobiles and compact-sized SUVs is that the first is based on a car-based unibody platform, while an SUV uses the unibody with welded-in ladder frame or body-on-frame chassis commonly used on trucks. However, manufacturers and common usage has blurred the two terms. Many recent vehicles labelled as compact SUVs are technically compact crossovers and are built on the platform of a compact/C-segment passenger car, while some models may be based on a mid-size car (D-segment) or a B-segment platform.
Development of the automobile started in 1672 with the invention of the first steam-powered vehicle, which led to the creation of the first steam-powered automobile capable of human transportation, built by Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot in 1769. Inventors began to branch out at the start of the 19th century, creating the de Rivas engine, one of the first internal combustion engines, and an early electric motor. Samuel Brown later tested the first industrially applied internal combustion engine in 1826.
The Nash Rambler is a North American automobile that was produced by the Nash Motors division of Nash-Kelvinator Corporation from 1950 to 1954 in sedan, wagon, and fixed-profile convertible body styles.
Compact MPV is a vehicle size class for the middle size of MPVs. The Compact MPV size class sits between the mini MPV and large MPV (minivan) size classes.
The Rambler Tarpon was a concept car, a compact-sized sporty youth-oriented 2+2 hardtop coupé developed in 1963 by American Motors Corporation (AMC). The bright red with black roof design study made its public debut 1964 Chicago Auto Show and served to foretell the fastback design elements of the larger Rambler Marlin that was introduced in 1965.
The AMC Cavalier was a compact concept presented by American Motors (AMC) in 1965, noted for symmetrical elements of its design and its interchangeable body parts.
The XR-400 was a fully operational concept car. A "sporty" youth-oriented convertible was built in 1962 by the Budd Company, an independent body builder in Detroit, Michigan, for evaluation by the fourth largest U.S. automaker at the time, American Motors Corporation (AMC). The phrase "ahead of its time" applies to this proposed vehicle.