If you listen to conventional wisdom coming out of Detroit, you'd think that every single U.S. car buyer secretly wants a Suburban.

Call it the bigger-longer-badder-better principle: Everyone wants the largest car they can afford.

Often that's true. But not always. Sometimes people want the most appealing car, even if it's smaller.

Conventional wisdom

Consider the 2011 Ford Fiesta, the first subcompact sold by Ford since the early 1990s. Conventional wisdom said it would be at most a marginal car, because no sane buyer would want such a "tiny" car.

And even if a few buyers did step up, they would just buy the base models because, let's face it, who on earth would ever pay $20,000 for a subcompact when that money would get you a nice midsize sedan or compact SUV?

Versus reality

Well, as they say: horsepucky.

First, Ford revealed that contrary to expectations, two-thirds of early 2011 Fiesta buyers opted for the hatchback (another vehicle type supposedly loathed by buyers)--even though the hatch is the pricier of the two Fiesta body styles.

Now the company has now released more data on early Fiesta sales.

As Ford's head of global marketing, Jim Farley, put it in the Detroit News: "There are a lot of surprises from the Fiesta story."


Early buyers of the 2011 Ford Fiesta are:

  • spending more on average for their cars than do buyers of the larger 2010 Ford Focus compact
  • ordering them in atypically bright colors, including the vibrant "Lime Squeeze" green that accounts for 1 in 4 Fiesta sales
  • frequently new to Ford: Six of 10 Fiesta owners haven't owned a Ford before
  • younger than expected: One-third of Fiesta buyers are under 35
  • opting for luxury features like leather seats (one in five Fiestas has 'em) and Sync (80 percent)

The most revealing fact, though? Farley notes that many of the 2011 Fiesta buyers are trading in ... wait for it ... larger cars.

Imagine that!

We'll acknowledge a caveat here: The earliest sales of any new model may reflect the desires of its most passionate supporters. Maybe in a couple of years, Fiestas will sell for less, on average, with fewer options and more sedans.

Still, imagine that: If a U.S. carmaker offers a stylish, fun-to-drive small car with appealing options, people might actually buy it.

Shock. Surprise.

[Detroit News]