Americans Will Buy Hatchbacks After All: Who Knew?

July 13, 2011
2012 Ford Focus

2012 Ford Focus

For years, the accepted wisdom in the American automotive industry was this: American consumers don’t want hatchbacks. Hatchbacks, we were led to believe, were ugly box-on-box designs synonymous with low-end buyers. Real Americans bought SUVs and crossovers, even though crossovers were ultimately just stylized hatchbacks.

Things seem to be changing with American buyers, who are now purchasing hatchbacks at rates not imagined by automakers. Ford’s projections on their Fiesta estimated that 40 percent of buyers would purchase five-door models; instead, up to 60 percent have opted for the hatchback. To date, 41 percent of Ford Focus buyers have chosen the hatchback, so Ford is changing production to reflect a 50 / 50 mix of sedans and five doors.

GM seems to have missed the boat entirely. Chevrolet’s Cruze compact sedan is available in a hatchback version in Europe, but the automaker opted not to bring the model into the U.S. because of a perceived lack of demand.  One analyst estimates that Chevrolet could sell 30 percent more units if a hatchback model was available.

The numbers from Wards Auto are the most telling: from 2006 through 2010, total car sales in the United States dropped by 23 percent. Hatchback sales, on the other hand, increased by 63 percent, rising from 291,853 to 475,048 annual units.

Why the change? Concerns over fuel prices have American consumers downsizing the family car, and hatchbacks offer the best blend of versatility and economy. New models come equipped with features previously reserved for luxury cars, so buying a hatchback is no longer a compromise in comfort.

The “ugly” stigma is gone, too, since most hatchbacks now feature bold, European styling.  As long as fuel prices remain high, expect to see sales of hatchbacks continue to increase.

[The Detroit News]

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