Thoreau Cabins on Wheels: The Fiat 500 Series and The Spark

I am soooo in love with the Fiat 500 series microcars, and am tempted to buy one whenever I see them on the road (which is frequently; microcars are everywhere in California).

But I already have a small car and am trying to keep it for a few more years.

But when I do switch up, I’m probably going to pick a Fiat. And I notice that The New York Times had an article yesterday on microcars, focusing on General Motors’ Spark:

The Spark, made in South Korea, seats four, has room for groceries — and starts at $12,170, significantly less than the Fiat 500’s starting price of $16,100. It’s also inexpensive to run, getting about 35 miles to the gallon.

In July, sales of the Spark increased 163 percent over the previous year, its introductory month, to a record 3,847, showing that a stripped-down minicar can succeed in a market crowded with costlier rivals like the Fiat 500 that have more features and technology. […] Through July this year, Spark sales were 21,435, behind only the Fiat 500’s 23,892 among minicars. […]

Beyond its cost, what separates the Spark, buyers say, is that it’s the only minicar sold in the United States with four doors.

“The ability to get four adults in a minicar like that is what sells the vehicle,” said Andy Lilienthal, of Portland, Ore., who has run a blog on small cars, called Subcompact Culture, since 2008.

G.M.’s decision to market a minicar like the Spark was a logical one, analysts said. With gasoline routinely topping $4 a gallon, many Americans are seeking better mileage. But automakers also need to make their fleets more efficient to meet strict new federal fuel economy standards that take effect in 2016, said Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst for Edmunds.com.

Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity. And as gas prices rise through the rest of this century, America, it seems, will go increasingly micro.

Then again, maybe not:

Joseph Spak, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets […] said he was skeptical that demand from American consumers for subcompact and mini models had much room to grow as larger vehicles become more fuel-efficient. Despite the interest in small cars, it is trucks and utility vehicles that are fueling Detroit’s resurgence.

“Over the years, you’ve definitely seen some consumers move down to smaller cars,” he said, “but the challenge for subcompacts is that you’re seeing the fuel economy of other segments increasing.”

Regardless of what the rest of the country ends up doing, I’m going smaller on my next car purchase–almost certainly to the Fiat. And I like that such cars are eco-friendly, like little Thoreau cabins on wheels.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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