Detroit Auto Show: Small Cars Are Sexy Again
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Julie Halpert
The Fiscal Times
January 9, 2012

Think Small. That’s what automakers are suggesting, based on the early reveals at the North American International Auto Show. The annual event, which kicked off with two days of media previews today, provides a preview of where carmakers are headed. A common theme: consumers’ growing concerns about rising gas prices have made high fuel economy a priority – and automakers are adapting with style. Gone are the boxy, basic cars of the past. Instead, car makers have unleashed new compacts, designed to assure customers that they can have it all: a sporty vehicle with sufficient cargo space and solid gas mileage. Below, three eye-catching new products unveiled at the show.

2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS
Riding high on the success of GM’s first compact-car breakthrough, the Chevrolet Cruz, General Motors’ Sonic, due later this year, is intended to cultivate younger buyers. It’s far more visually interesting than the Cruz, with a dramatic, flashy front grill, large fog lamps and bold tail lights. The car has an upright, truncated blunt-edge rear that makes a stark statement. A turbocharged powertrain, the only one in its segment, should provide plenty of pep. And it’s got essential connectivity features you would find in any luxury vehicle, including access to Pandora and Stitcher. You can also download directions from your smart phone to the vehicle’s display. The car gets a whopping 40 miles-per gallon, with a starting price at $14,495.

Volkswagen E-Bugster (Concept stage)
This world premiere from VW tries to tap into the cult status of the Beatle, with a zero-emission, electric car that has a slick design. The name combines the “E” for electric, with “bug,” the Beetle’s iconic nickname and “speedster,” which describes the two-seater. Its rounded design resembles a 1930s era roadster. A windshield that’s wide and low provides a sleek, contemporary feel, while allowing for maximum visibility. The car should address range anxiety, with the power to travel 100 miles on a charge. Unlike many other electric vehicles, which look essentially similar to their conventional gas counterparts, this car has its own identity.

Mercedes-Benz SMART For Us Pickup (Concept stage)
This two-seater is intended to challenge ideas about what an urban pick-up might look like. Like the pint-size Smart car, this vehicle boasts a small size. But it also packs an efficiently designed cargo bed for hauling. And a docking station in the cargo bed allows continuous charging for ebike batteries. Even better, the convex body shape is the sort a child would envision, conveying a whimsical feel. How smart is that?