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Hey Mac What' Up? - "Car Wars" Erupt In All Segments

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By Mac Gordon
The Auto Channel

In their anxiety to become competitive in every segment of the market, automakers like Toyota and Chevrolet are adding nameplates like there's no tomorrow in this business. This fling in metastasizing has drawn praise from dealers burned by Volkswagen's Beetle and Golf success, but raises questions as to whether so many brands are necessary.

The federal MPG standards motivate the proliferation push. But dealers find that grosses and margins do not hold up the more models exist in a segment.

On the contrary, whereas VW dealers rake in higher grosses with Golf and GTI subcompacts, Toyota, Chevrolet and Ford seem to be outracing each other in conducting their intra-league strategies.

In Chevrolet's case, after years of offering disappointing small cars, like Cobalt and Aveo, Chevy has added four successors in the subcompact bracket-Cruze, Sonic, Spark and Volt.

Not to be denied the one-size-fits-all temptation, Toyota has given the Corolla three bracket competitors-Venza, Yaris and Prius.

Honda, for its part as a longtime pillar in the small-car league, has limited its subcompact entries to Civic and Fit.

Nissan's lone addition in small cars is the all-electric Leaf, a low seller compared to the conventional Versa.

By contrast, rebels Hyundai and Kia, rather than clutter their portfolios in the subcompact field with added models, has held firm with the Accent, Rio, Forte and Soul spinoffs.

Contending for small-car laurels in the midst of the 2012-model-year array is the Fiat 500, sold by Chrysler dealers.

The New York Times, reviewing the small-car sweepstakes, has a quote of the month: “The little Toyota gets nearly everything else right. (It) is affordable... It is cute.”

Reviewer Lawrence Ulrich points out that the Toyota Yaris falls short of the 40 MPG federal bogie but smaller Fords, Chevys and Hyundais have topped the others with an optional 6-speed AT.

When will Ford catch up with Focus, Fusion et al.? Tracking Chevrolet with one small car after another has been a tough tactic for Ford, whose small cars have failed to equal Chevy’s for a slew of years.

A case can indeed be made that Chevy, Ford and maybe at some point Toyota may fall short of matching quality and performance criteria of the Germans and Koreans.

True enough, Cruze and Yaris outshine their predecessors in quality and performance but do they rival VW and Hyundai/Kia in surpassing their previous models in economy, performance and styling?

Heck no! In the car wars, better than before wins every time!