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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Should Your Next Car Be A Micro/Mini?

Small Car Sales Up In Florida

In South Florida, gas-guzzling Hummers, big pickup trucks, minivans, four-door sedans and SUVs are slowly becoming extinct, and gas sippers are steadily taking over the Sunshine State's roadways.

"The [Honda] Fit is excellent," said Lake Worth resident Manuel Valido, who bought his subcompact as gas prices soared last summer. "It's saving fuel. I get 38 to 40 miles per gallon."

It was only five years ago that U.S. drivers looked upon subcompact cars with disdain. They earned only a puny 1.8 percent of U.S. car sales in April 2004, according to the auto consumer Web site But then along came the 2008 gas spike, and suddenly small cars weren't so unattractive anymore. Subcompacts reached their peak last summer and scored a 4.9 percent market share, their biggest in decades.

The national infatuation with smaller vehicles tailed off in December as sales dropped to less than 3 percent of all car sales. Volume has steadily fought back, earning 4.3 percent of U.S. car sales by April and becoming the fastest growing category of cars.

But some experts question the safety of micro/mini cars, pointing to the potential damage done by a much larger vehicle side-swiping a car one-third its size. Weight and size does matter when it comes to protecting occupants during crashes, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Their recently released report reveals that small cars performed poorly in head-on collisions with mid-size vehicles.

But in crash tests, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives their stamp of approval on some small cars.

"They're seen as safe choices by consumers," said analyst Jesse Toprak. "People are looking for value purchases. They're cheap to buy. They're cheap to own. They have lower fuel costs."

These days, when economic doom has made thrift and minimalism trendy, micro-mini cars have even more appeal: they're fashionable.

"Everyone who sees this car says it's so cute," said Shirley Miller, who leased her silver Toyota Yaris three months ago.

Miller, who considered buying a mid-size SUV but thought again in the face of the poor economy and fear of another spike in gas prices, looked on as SUV and truck drivers filled up at a neighborhood gas station. "I come after them and they're still filling up after I'm done," she chuckled.

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