During the first quarter of 2011, small car sales accounted for 19.4 percent of all vehicles sold.
That is a sudden increase in popularity--up 2.8 percent from the last quarter of 2010--and it helped propel the average fuel economy of vehicles sold in the U.S. during January, February, and March to 22.7 miles per gallon, a figure that approaches the all time record set during the Cash-For-Clunkers-fueled third quarter of 2009.
Consumers expressed concern about rising fuel prices, and new fuel-efficient offerings like the 2011 Hyundai Elantra, the 2011 VW Jetta, and the 2011 Chevy Cruze all sold well during the first quarter.
Hyundai in particular has heavily promoted the 2011 Elantra's EPA rating of 40 mpg highway, and the fact that it applies to all models, both manual and automatic.
Despite concern over fuel prices, light trucks still accounted for 50.6 percent of all vehicles sold during the first quarter. That represents a slight increase from the first quarter of 2010, but it's far lower than the 54.6 percent share of the market they enjoyed in the last quarter of 2010.
Wards Auto considers the drop in truck sales to be fed by a combination of seasonality, high fuel prices, and a shift away from trucks in the commercial market segment.
Wards rates the average fuel economy of domestic light trucks sold during the first quarter at 18.8 mpg, with imported light trucks averaging 22.2 mpg. Domestic cars averaged 25.2 mpg during the period, while imported cars averaged 27.6 mpg.
Overall, domestic light vehicles (cars and trucks combined) increased in fuel efficiency by 1.3 percent from the first quarter of 2010, while imported light vehicles increased fuel efficiency by 3.5 percent from a year ago.