The changing face of compact cars: Even small must get bigger

By DPA | 25 March 2020

BERLIN: Automobiles tend to get bigger with every generation, and compact cars aren't exempt from this rule. In Europe and other markets, however, compact cars have tended to be the second choice, a spare to take to the city.

Now, more buyers are choosing to make small cars their primary go-to, says auto trends expert Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer of the University of St Gallen in Switzerland.

“For a family of three, a compact car is an attractive option, as you can also take it on holiday with your luggage,” he says.

Following a long trend of ever-growing SUVs, small and compact cars are now also getting higher and wider.

"Big, bigger, biggest seems to be the maxim," Dudenhoeffer says. The additional interior space in a small car can serve a small family well.

Another growing trend in the auto industry is electric cars, and nowhere is this more obvious than in small city runabouts.

The new wave of so-called plug-in hybrids is a way for automakers to get their fleets’ average emissions down, Dudenhoeffer says. He believes the plug-in hybrid is an interim solution for manufacturers who don’t yet have the capability to build purely electric cars.

"If you don't have the electric platform yet, you feel your way around with a few plug-in hybrid vehicles and hope that that will be enough to achieve the targets," he says.

"Some automakers are also putting a lot of pressure on their dealerships to get these cars into the market with high sales targets."

Dudenhoeffer points out that the extra weight plug-in hybrid vehicles must carry is a big disadvantage. In addition to the combustion engine, they have an electric motor as well as a battery on board to be charged externally with a plug.

Stopping to find a power socket every 50km or 60km isn’t an ideal scenario, he says. Hybrid systems without plugs make more sense for small and compact cars.

He believes fully electric cars are a better option. Modern small and compact electric cars offer ranges of around 300km. starting at around US$30,000 (RM132,000). That's a bit more pricy, but many countries offer large rebates or incentives for consumers buying electric cars.

And the numbers might look better very soon: Dacia, known as a price breaker, is the first manufacturer to announce a low-cost electric car, to be released in 2021.