Subcompact car is an American classification for cars which is broadly equivalent to the B-segment (Europe) or supermini (Great Britain) classifications, and smaller than a compact car.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) car size class definition, the subcompact category sits between minicompact and compact categories. 85–99 cubic feet (2,410–2,800 L). Current examples of subcompact cars are the Ford Fiesta and Chevrolet Sonic. The smaller cars in the A-segment / city car category (such as the Chevrolet Spark and Smart Fortwo) are sometimes called subcompacts in the U.S., because the EPA's name for this smaller category— minicompact— is not commonly used by the general public.The EPA definition of a subcompact is a passenger car with a combined interior and cargo volume of between
The prevalence of small cars in the United States increased in the 1960s due to increased imports of cars from Europe and Japan. Widespread use of the term subcompact coincided with the early 1970s increase in subcompact cars built in the United States. Early 1970s subcompacts include the AMC Gremlin, Chevrolet Vega, and Ford Pinto.
The term subcompact originated during the 1960s.However, it came into popular use in the early 1970s, as car manufacturers in the United States began to introduce smaller cars into their line-up.
Previously, cars in this size were variously categorized, including "small cars" : 120 or "economy cars".
Several of these small cars were produced in the U.S. in limited volumes, including the 1930 American Austin (later called the American Bantam)and the 1939 Crosley. From the 1950s onwards, various imported small cars were sold in the U.S., including the Nash Metropolitan, Volkswagen Beetle, and various small British cars. The term subcompact did not yet exist, so the Metropolitan was labeled a "compact or economy car" and marketed as a second vehicle for use around town, not as a primary car. The Volkswagen Beetle was marketed with advertising pointing out the car's unconventional features as strengths and to get buyers to "think small." Prompted by the British government for exports, Ford was one of the first companies to try and sell inexpensive small cars in volume. From 1948 to 1970, approximately 250,000 economical English Fords were imported to the US while over 235,000 went to Canada. Models such as the 1960 Ford Anglia were promoted as "The world's most exciting light car."
Due to the increasing popularity of small cars imported from Europe and Japan during the late 1960s, the American manufacturers began releasing competing locally-built models in the early 1970s.The AMC Gremlin was described at its April 1970 introduction as "the first American-built import" and the first U.S.-built subcompact car. Also introduced in late 1970 for the 1971 model year were the Chevrolet Vega and Ford Pinto. Plans for the subcompact AMC Gremlin pre-dated Vega and Pinto by several years because of AMC's strategy to recognize emerging market opportunities ahead of the competition.
Sales of American-built "low weight cars" (including subcompacts) accounted for more than 30% of total car sales in 1972 and 1973, despite inventory shortages for several models.The Gremlin, Pinto, and Vega were all rear-wheel drive and available with four-cylinder engines (the Pinto was also available with the Ford's Cologne V6 engine while the Gremlin was also available with AMC's I6 and V8 engines).
The Pontiac Astre, the Canadian-originated re-badged Vega variant was released in the U.S. in September 1974.Due to falling sales of the larger pony cars (such as the Chevrolet Camaro and first-generation Ford Mustang) in the mid-1970s, the Vega-based Chevrolet Monza was introduced as an upscale subcompact and the Ford Mustang II downsized from the pony car class to become a subcompact car for its second generation. The Monza with its GM variants Pontiac Sunbird, Buick Skyhawk, Oldsmobile Starfire, and the Mustang II continued until the end of the decade. The Chevrolet Chevette was GM's new entry-level subcompact introduced as a 1976 model. It was an 'Americanized' design from Opel, GM's German subsidiary. Additionally, subcompacts that were imported and marketed through domestic manufacturers' dealer networks as captive imports included the Renault Le Car and the Ford Fiesta
In 1977, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began to use a new vehicle classification system, based on interior volume instead of exterior size. : 3 Sedans with up to 100 cubic feet of passenger luggage volume were classified as a subcompact. There was not a separate subcompact station wagon class with all up to 130 cubic feet of volume classified as "small."
In 1978, Volkswagen began producing the "Rabbit" version of the Golf— a modern, front-wheel drive design— in Pennsylvania. In 1982, American Motors began manufacturing the U.S. Renault Alliance— a version of the Renault 9— in Wisconsin. Both models benefiting from European designs, development, and experience.
To replace the aging Chevette in the second half of the 1980s, Chevrolet introduced marketed imported front-wheel drive subcompact cars: the Suzuki Cultus (a three-cylinder hatchback, badged as the Chevrolet Sprint) and the Isuzu Gemini (a four-cylinder hatchback/sedan badged as the Chevrolet Spectrum).
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During the 1990s GM offered the Geo brand featuring the Suzuki-built Metro subcompact.
Because of consumer demand for fuel-efficient cars during the late-2000s, sales of subcompact cars made it the fastest growing market category in the U.S.However, low gas prices and the added room in SUVs contributed to a 50 percent drop in sales of subcompacts in the first half of 2020 compared to 2019. Most subcompacts were out of production by the end of the decade, including the Mazda 2 (discontinued after 2014), Scion xD (2016), Toyota Prius C (2017), Ford Fiesta (2019), Nissan Micra (2019), Smart Fortwo (2019), Fiat 500 (2019), Toyota Yaris (2020), Honda Fit (2020), and Chevrolet Sonic (2020).
Current subcompact cars in production as of 2021 include models such as the Chevrolet Spark, Hyundai Accent (US only), Kia Rio, the Mitsubishi Mirage, the Nissan Versa, and the Mini Hatch.
Minivan is a North American car classification for vehicles designed to transport passengers in the rear seating row(s), with reconfigurable seats in two or three rows. The equivalent classification in Europe is the M-segment, more commonly known as an MPV or a people carrier / mover. Minivans often have a 'one-box' or 'two-box' body configuration, a higher roof, a flat floor, a sliding door for rear passengers, and high H-point seating.
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.
The Ford Pinto is a subcompact car that was manufactured and marketed by Ford Motor Company in North America from the 1971 to the 1980 model years. The Pinto was the first subcompact vehicle produced by Ford in North America.
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.
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.
Governments and private organizations have developed car classification schemes that are used for various purposes including regulation, description, and categorization of cars.
Compact car is a vehicle size class — predominantly used in North America — that sits between subcompact cars and mid-size cars. The present-day definition is equivalent to the European C-segment or the British term "small family car". 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.
Pony car is an American car classification for affordable, compact, highly styled coupés or convertibles with a "sporty" or performance-oriented image. Common characteristics include rear-wheel drive, a long hood, a short decklid, a wide range of options to individualize each car and use of mass-produced parts shared with other models.
Rebadging in the automotive industry is a form of market segmentation used by automobile manufacturers around the world. To allow for product differentiation without designing or engineering a new model or brand, a manufacturer creates a distinct automobile by applying a new badge or trademark to an existing product line.
Captive import is a marketing term and a strategy for a vehicle that is foreign-built and sold under the name of an importer or by a domestic automaker through its own dealer distribution system.
The Renault Alliance is a front-wheel drive, front-engine subcompact automobile manufactured and marketed in North America by American Motors Corporation (AMC) for model years 1983–1987. The Alliance and its subsequent hatchback variant, the Encore, were re-engineered Renault 9 & 11 for the U.S. and Canadian markets.
Economy car is a term mostly used in the United States for cars designed for low-cost purchase and operation. Typical economy cars are small, lightweight, and inexpensive to both produce and purchase. Stringent design constraints generally force economy car manufactures to be inventive. Many innovations in automobile design were originally developed for economy cars, such as the Ford Model T and the Austin Mini.
The Pontiac Astre is a subcompact automobile that was marketed by Pontiac as a rebadged variant of the Chevrolet Vega. Initially marketed in Canada for model years 1973–1974, the Astre debuted in the U.S. for the 1975 model year, competing with other domestic and foreign subcompacts that included the Mercury Bobcat, Volkswagen Rabbit, and Toyota Corolla.
A crossover, crossover SUV, or crossover utility vehicle (CUV) is a type of sport utility vehicle-like vehicle built with unibody frame construction. A term that originated from North America, crossovers are based on a platform shared with a passenger car, as opposed to a platform shared with a pickup truck. Because of that, crossovers may also be referred as "car-based SUVs". Compared to truck-based SUVs, they typically have better interior comfort, a more comfortable ride, better fuel economy, and lower manufacturing costs, but also inferior off-road and towing capability. Forerunners of the modern crossover include the 1977 Matra Rancho and the AMC Eagle introduced in 1979.
Mid-size—also known as intermediate—is a vehicle size class which originated in the United States and is used for cars that are larger than compact cars, but smaller than full-size cars. The equivalent European category is D-segment, which is also called "large family car". 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 panel van, also known as a blind van, car-derived van or sedan delivery, is a small cargo vehicle utilizing a passenger car chassis, typically with a single front bench seat and no side windows behind the B-pillar. Panel vans are smaller than panel trucks or cargo vans, both of which utilize body-on-frame truck chassis.
The General Motors H platform is an automobile platform used by subcompact cars from the 1971 to 1980 model years. The first subcompact car design developed by GM, the rear-wheel drive H platform initially underpinned the Chevrolet Vega and its Pontiac Astre counterpart. For 1975, the H platform was expanded from entry-level vehicles to sport compacts, adding the Chevrolet Monza, Buick Skyhawk, Oldsmobile Starfire, and Pontiac Sunbird.
The Ford Maverick is a compact car manufactured and marketed by Ford for model years 1970–1977 in the United States, originally as a two-door sedan employing a rear-wheel drive platform original to the 1960 Falcon — and subsequently as a four-door sedan on the same platform.
The automotive industry in the United States began in the 1890s and, as a result of the size of the domestic market and the use of mass production, rapidly evolved into the largest in the world. The United States was the first country in the world to have a mass market for vehicle production and sales and is a pioneer of the automotive industry and mass market production process. During the course of the 20th century global competitors emerged especially in the second half of the century primarily across European and Asian markets, such as Germany, France, Italy, Japan and South Korea. The U.S. is currently second among the largest manufacturer(s) in the world by volume.
The boom in subcompact cars is on.
During WWII and immediately afterwards, Mason began to explore the idea of developing a truly small car, the size of what today we'd call a subcompact.
10 inches shorter than a Volkswagen Beetle, the Metropolitan joined Bantam and Crosley as the smallest cars ever sold here in any volume.
Detroit's small cars, sized and priced to compete head-on with the most successful sub-compact imports.
Introduced in April 1970, the AMC Gremlin hit the market five months before the Ford Pinto and the Chevrolet Vega.