Microcar Battle Heats Up With Ford's Fiesta, Chevy's Spark and More To Come

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screenshot from FiestaMovement.com website

With gas prices slowly slipping upward again, gaining about two cents in the last week so that now they are between $2.59 and $2.70 nationally, interest is again swinging toward subcompacts and microcars. However, as a singer once asked: "How low can you go?". Alan Mulally, president and CEO of Ford, may have gotten it right when he told Automotive News recently that it had no plans to bring the micro Ka to this market.

Instead, Ford is relying on the Fiesta as its entry in the microcar market and from the initial impressions of the automotive blogosphere, emagazania and more traditional publications (Car and Driver's website, for example), the Fiesta is a model to be contended with.

As originally conceived about 20 years ago, the Fiesta was to be a subcompact hatchback with a small four-cylinder engine, small tires and good mileage. The materials technology of the day was nowhere nearly as good as it is today so the Fiesta, after its initial sales charge, settled into a relatively reliable small niche and the model never reached the levels that Ford hoped it would.

Today's Fiesta is a sleek microcar that comes with a sprightly (for this segment) 1.6-liter powerplant, advanced twin, independent variable cam timing, a powershift manual and a more standard overdrive automatic. Like other Ford products, the Fiesta is loaded with interesting technology including an integrated 4-inch front display that probably doubles as a backup camera screen, (although we don't know that it will, but it makes sense) keyless entry and power start. It also includes up to seven airbags including one of the most comprehensive side curtain and side airbag systems in this segment. And, it includes electronic stability control.

The Fiesta is part of Ford's third attempt at a world car in the last 20 years that included the Ford Escort, Focus and now the Fiesta, all of which were launched to help control costs and give the company a single platform with which it could compete economically worldwide. Consumer Guide noted the Fiesta will be built at Ford's Mexican production complex, so costs will be low and it will share, along with the Mazda2, the B2E platform. Mazda isn't slated to bring the Mazda2 to this market.

Ford views its key competition in this market as the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Suzuki SX4 and Scion xD. The price ranges for these models start from a low of about $11,900 and go up to $19,000. Quite a price range, which strangely finds Honda on the upper end of the pricing.

The Fiesta is Ford's attempt to compete in the microcar world or today's subcompact market. It looks like Mulally made the right decision, too, when he noted to Automotive News that Ford's view was that the Fiesta is about the smallest vehicle they think will be a real success in the United States.

Fiat, which is likely to bring the Ka's twin, also known as the Fiat 500, into this market next year under the Chrysler banner, thinks otherwise. But, if you look at sales of microcars, you have to wonder.

For instance, when the two-place Smart, owned by Mercedes-Benz, made its appearance a couple of years ago, people lined up to put down their deposits. Many of the same buyers quickly withdrew those deposits, and sales have never been particularly brisk at any of the 75 Smart dealers designated in the U.S.

(From a safety standpoint, it's little wonder. Who would want to sit in a 9-foot long ca that weighs between 1800 and 2,300 pounds, depending on the model, with a wheelbase of 73.5 inches that's fit for only two? There are only three coupe models available, each powered by the same three-cylinder 1 liter powerplant that has a top speed of 90 mpg and a 0 to 60 clock of about 12.8 seconds. And, in a challenge between even a small SUV or Crossover and a vehicle he size of the Smart, it's not likely that the the Smart would be the winner. Simple physics shows this more mass powers through less mass and less mass usually doesn't do to well against larger objects, no matter how much safety technology you put into it and the Smart has a ton (airbags, brakes, tires, you name it).

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