Now We Know: U.S. Buyers Don't Much Want Tiny Two-Seat Cars

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2011 Scion iQ at 2010 New York Auto Show, with Scion's Jack Hollis

2011 Scion iQ at 2010 New York Auto Show, with Scion's Jack Hollis

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It was always a big question whether Americans would buy very, very small cars.

When the Smart ForTwo launched in 2008, right into the teeth of gas prices that soared to $4 a gallon, it looked as if the answer might be yes.

But now it seems the longer-term answer is, "No, not really."

Sales of the Smart ForTwo minicar have remained at low levels--10,009 in 2012, after totals of 5,348 in 2011, 5,927 in 2010, and 14,600 in 2009.

In fact, they never again reached the lofty heights of 2008, the ForTwo's first year on sale, when it sold 24,622 units--far higher than the annual goal of 16,000.

And now the results are in for the almost-as-small Scion iQ, which has just completed its first full year on the market.

Regardless of confident predictions in 2010 by Scion executive Jack Hollis that it would sell "1,700 to 2,000" iQs each month, the 2012 sales total is just 8,879.

(Scion also sold a handful of the little iQ in 2011, precisely 248 of them.)

For comparison purposes, Toyota sold more Priuses in December--20,040--than the combined sales of Scion iQs and Smart ForTwos throughout all of 2012.

Technically, of course, the Scion iQ isn't a two-seater like the Smart ForTwo.

It's a "three plus one" seater, with a rear row that can fit a smallish adult in the third seat plus a child in the fourth.

But, frankly, we doubt any of the 9,000 or so Scion iQ owners ever use those third and fourth seats for people.

The Scion iQ is not particularly cheap--the Smart starts at $13,240, but the Scion is almost $3,000 more, at $16,140--and neither car is at the top of the fuel-efficiency sweepstakes.

So it seems the only reason to buy one is the ability to park it in really, really tiny spaces.

That's a useful qualification, but only for a very small number of buyers.

For most of the rest, it appears a four-seat subcompact or a hybrid does the job just fine.

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