Even today, the common belief is that Americans won't buy small cars. Yes, the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic consistently rank as best-sellers in the U.S., but considering how much they've grown it's hard to call them small anymore. Two of the city cars offered here, though, are probably selling better than anyone thought.
And it's interesting despite how much people who review cars have told you not to buy them. Last week, instead of listening to cable news or sirens while I did other things, I tuned into Talking Cars with Consumer Reports #27: Models to Avoid. It was 26 minutes long, but the interesting part came early on. CR hates city cars, and they think you shouldn't buy one unless you live in San Francisco.
And yet I know the Chevrolet Spark sold in more places than San Francisco in March. In fact, GM reported Spark sales were up 44.6 percent last month and that they sold 5,117 of the tiniest Chevy. That's quite a lot for a niche segment, and for a car that was not at all designed for the U.S. market originally.
The Mitsubishi Mirage is probably the bigger mystery between the two. When it was launched last year, Mitsubishi expected to sell about 7,000 Mirages per year – a very important 7,000 units for its ailing US branch. Mitsubishi reported Tuesday that it sold 1,499 Mirages last month. In the first three months of the year, Mitsubishi has sold 3,750 Mirages, more than half the total it expected to sell in all of 2014. It's been such a boost to Mitsu's sales that the company was up 70 percent last month.
Some of it is definitely fleet sales. GM readily admitted the Spark's retail sales were only up 17 percent in March, and I've seen plenty of Sparks in rental lots since it was launched. Who knows where Mitsubishi is sending these Mirages, as I've only seen a few so far.
Reviewers are right to point out some value issues. The Spark Matt tested a few weeks ago was $17,000, and loaded with stuff like leatherette seats (fancy) and a CVT. But would you be OK if your 12 grand Spark was scraped and dented living on a city street instead of a $21,000 base Mini Cooper?
I think we can dispel the notion that Americans won't buy city cars. Cars like the Smart and Scion iQ will be niche, but blame that on lack of doors and seats. Give them a city car with four doors, four seats and a strong dealer network in the case of the Spark, and there is a market.
Will it grow? That'll be interesting to see.
Photos: Mitsubishi, GM