mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Dude, where's my (niche) car?

The WSJ has an article about how cars keep getting bigger, so gas milage hasn't improved. They illustrate it by showing how the 80's Honda Civic CRX got way better gas milage than the current Honda Civic sedan.

The comparision seems kind of unfair. After all, the CRX was a tiny two-passenger sporty car, while the Civic is, well, a compact sedan. But Honda doesn't make a CRX or equivilent anymore, and it's kind of interesting to wonder why. Cheap two-door two-passenger Japanese cars used to practically be a catagory - in addition to the CRX, there was the Toyota MR2 and the Subaru XT, and probably some others I'm forgetting. Honda replaced the unloved and unlamented Civic Del Sol, which was more expensive and slower.

I have to wonder why no manufacturer has come up with something silmilar. Two-seat convertables have made a comeback (Miata, Solstice, Sky, et al) but nobody seems to make a cheap two-passenger coupe. Is it because nobody would buy it, or because no manufacturer is willing to take the risk?

Another underserved niche seems to be small pickup trucks. It used to be that everyone made a small pickup. Then in the late '80's, Dodge, whose previous pickup was the Ram 50 (a rebadge of the amusingly named Mitsubishi Mighty Max) introduced the "mid-sized" Dakota, and pickups have been porking up ever since. Autoblog had an article a few days ago that the Ford Ranger will probably be dropped after 2008, which pretty much kills the smaller-than-midsized market, except for the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon. Once again, it seems like an underserved market. Fleets buy a ton of Rangers, but they also are a great choice for people who need a pickup or 4wd vehicle but don't want the bulk of an F-series. I have a Ranger, and it fills my needs - commuting and occasionally hauling something bulky, plus 4wd and a decent suspension for snow and giant Baltimore City potholes. Since I work (and go to bars) in the city, I like having something that's reasonably narrow and reasonably easy to parallel park, and the Ranger does that. I don't need to carry passengers, so a bigger/wider cab isn't a big deal.

Once again, is there really no market for smaller trucks, or is it just that nobody has made a decent one? I like my ranger, but it is a little long in the tooth design wise, and the interior plastics (and cupholders/storage/egronomics) could be way better.

I feel the same way about two-door truck based SUV's. If Ford had still made an Explorer Sport or Chevy still made a two door Blazer, I would probably have bought it over the Ranger. Two door SUV's say that I'm a young single male, while 4-door ones scream soccer mom, at least IMHO. Since I don't usually carry dirty stuff, enclosed cargo space would have been nice, but I didn't want to spend the premium to buy an SUV. The Toyota FJ Crusier is about the only truck based SUV that looks like a two-door (it has small suicide back doors) but it costs close to $30 grand - like a Ranger and a half.

Maybe I just have wierd taste, but I can't help wonder if car manufacturers could serve these niches succesfully.


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