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Survey Finds “Surprising” Amount of Customer Dissatisfaction with Small Cars

A survey conducted by market research firm Mintel as part of a larger report on Small Cars has found consumer dissatisfaction with their purchases in the segment. In the study, Mintel found that only half of small car-buying respondents (51%) say they feel “extremely happy” with their small car purchases; by comparison, 80% of all respondents report feeling just as happy with their vehicle purchases.

Our survey revealed a surprisingly high number of small car drivers who aren’t fully satisfied by their vehicles, suggesting that today’s small cars may not have the amenities people want. This is a key insight for Detroit manufacturers as they revisit business and development plans for 2009.

—Mark Guarino, senior analyst at Mintel

Mintel research shows that most small car buyers choose to go compact because of fuel economy. Across income groups, 79% of respondents who purchased small cars say they selected their current vehicle because of gas mileage.

Moreover, 42% of small car owners bought their vehicle to replace a similar-sized vehicle in the same category, according to Mintel.

There is great potential for growth in the small car market. Automakers just need to figure out how to best package and sell the benefits of small cars to consumers. The transition from expensive, gas-hogging SUV to cheaper, fuel-efficient compact will feel like less of a sacrifice if the smaller car offers similar luxury features. Automakers need these innovative strategies to show consumers they are committed to change.

—Mark Guarino

The sampling size was 500 adults 18+ who bought or leased a compact car in the past 24 months. The Mintel Small Cars report was originally targeted for December 2008 but has been delayed to the economic turmoil in the industry and to get a better assessment on how things are going to play out this year, according to Guarino.



“Half feel ‘extremely happy’ with their small car purchases.”
“80% of all respondents report feeling just as happy with their vehicle purchases.”
Just as happy as what? As happy as before? Probably not extremely happy or they would said so.
Sounds like a apples and oranges.
What kind of survey would make “extremely happy” the criteria?
Peter Cook, Christie Brinkley's estranged husband, was unfaithful.
Proving that “extremely unhappy” is easy to achieve; “extremely happy” was not.


This is why I just recently (last few weeks) bought a Dodge Ram 4X4, Quadcab, Hemi 5.7L full size truck. Not only am I happy with its size, power, road presence, and happy to have supported the UAW & Chrysler in their time of need, but I'm glad to have done it before the kooks, quacks and freaks come out of the woodwork to demonize people who buy big vehicles. I was driving a 2-door VW Golf before & there is an overall radical, radical improvement - though my gas mileage & fuel bills are worse.


This is badly worded. I believe "just as happy" means that the 80% of all car buyers are just as happy as the 51% of extremely happy small car buyers. In other words, 80% of call buyers are extremely happy while only 51% of small car buyers are. Personally, I have a 2000 Jetta and am extremely happy with it. I would never buy a pickup truck or SUV and would not be at all surprised if I never buy an American car. People like ejj amaze me. If you prefer Dodge Quadcabs to VW Golfs, why would you buy a VW Golf in the first place? I bought a Jetta because that was the car I wanted, no surprise I am extremely happy. Perhaps people ought to test-drive cars before buying them. Perhaps people also need to get over the desire to feel like they have the ability to drive over everybody in front of them and they would be happier with their small cars. If you only expect your car to be a car and not an extension of a certain part of your body, then it is very easy to be happy with a small car.


"Road presence"?!! The mind boggles at the connotations for this phrase.


The tool needs to fit the job. No one would demonize contractors for driving quad caps for their crew and equipment. But if you are driving a Quad cap just to feel important as you burn up the world's remaining resources and intimidate small car drivers on your way to the office in the city, then the job fits the tool.

I would like to see light aerodynamic two-seaters with very small engines built for commuters for under $10,000. My '68 MGB, '72 porsche 914, '74 Karmann Ghia,'78 Suzuki Sprint, and 94 Honda Civic all got better than 40 mpg, were cheap to buy and own, and were a blast to drive. At some point car makers started penalizing small car drivers to encourage tham to move up. They shortened the leg room, made them tinny, gave them inefficient automatic trannies and names like Ford Aspire, which means, "I really don't like or want this car, I aspire to something better." Every car after the Ghia has been more expensive, less efficient, less fun to drive, and less satisfying. My current car, a Corolla, although efficient and reliable, has zero fun or style and is too small for my 6'2" frame. The back seat and rear doors are weight I don't need in my commute. If I could get someone to pimp my ride, I would cut out the back seat and doors, move the front seat back 2 inches, and give it an aerodynamic shape like an Opel GT made of light weight plastics. Just by cutting 500 lbs of fat and giving it a slippery body, the mpg would go up to 60 or 70, handling would improve dramatically, top speed would go well over 100 mph and small car satisfaction would be higher than ever.

Car makers would rather put us all in Quad cabs because their profit margins are much higher.


Apples Oranges
Fruit? Y Y
Has seeds? Y Y
Outer skin? Y Y
Grown on flowering
trees? Y Y
Considered a
fruit? Y Y
Subject to
disease Y Y
Grown in
Orchards Y Y
May be made into
juice? Y Y

Hmmm.... comparing apples and oranges doesn't seem so difficult to me.


creativforce made a good point.

Simple light reliable affordable fun 40+ mpg cars were available 40 years ago. With efficient new engines and materials, such cars should be everywhere, yet aren't.

As with aircraft, weight is the enemy. The original VW bug and Mini weighed under 1500 pounds. Adding airbags shouldn't add a thousand pounds to auto weight.


@ Peter
In México, some time ago there were some very good radio and TV VW ads saying "todo mundo tiene un Jetta... menos en la cabeza"
(everyone has a Jetta... least in their heads)


@ ejj
Regarding the HEMI 5.7 liter engine and fossil fuels,
check this saying:
"We don't inherit from our parents, we steal from our children"
Dr. Collin Campbell


Road presence is a vital issue for many as they commute along roads with high volumes of 18 wheelers. They simply cant go below a certain size of car without becoming too hard to see for those truckers.



Do you have any stats to support this? Seems to me you are applying a perception (that might stem from personal experience?) that helps to drive the taste for large vehicles in the US.


Not all small cars have small profit margins. The other day I parked next to a brand new Mini Cooper S Clubman. So new, the sticker was still on the car. I don't know how much the guy paid, but the sticker read $32,000. Any guesses on how much of that is profit? I bet you it's as much as the profit on any $32K-stickered truck. The reason Escalade ESVs have such huge profit margins is because they are $70K. But any $70K car will also have a huge profit margin. The problem is not that trucks have bigger profit margins than small cars. The problem is for so long many small cars in the US, esp the ones from the Big Three have been undesirable and therefore have not commanded a premium. But make a cool small car, like the Mini, and you can charge a lot for it, build in a healthy profit margin.


Had a ex trucker as a friend in community colledge and he just gave the obvious advice to never drive anything ODD. The brain is looking for a car sized objects that look like cars. If your not that or something big enough to "fill the road" you run the risk of not actualy being there at all as far as the truckers mind is concerned.

This is the exact same thing that happens when people dont notice for instance a guy in a gorrila constume run across the floor at a sporting event. Its a gorrila guy not a basketball player or a cheerleader so the brain ignored it.

John Taylor

Truckers can only see SUV sized trucks and not regular cars and for sure not compact fuel efficient cars ... lol.

What a DUMB excuse ...


Its not an excuse its a fact of life. If your in something a good bit smaller then normal your in danger and need to watch out. This doesnt mean you cant drive a small car it means you shouldnt be shocked if that trucker behind you or to the side of you didnt notice you. Its the same as riding a bike only more crunchy.


If a trucker maintains he can't see a small car suspend his license and see if his vision improves.


I have a 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid (HCH)that I traded a 2004 HCH on. I was/am extremely happy with them. They are easily the best of 16 vehicles I have owned.

Ask yourself if you may be brainwashed by the American auto sponsered - auto magazines - that espouse some of the strange convictions expressed above.

"Road presence"?!! The mind boggles at the connotations for this phrase.

Boggle no more. Take a look.


You cant change the laws of nature via the laws of man Kelly.


I have invented a way to make small cars safer in collisions. It will encourage more people to drive small, energy efficient cars.
Please help me get this idea evaluated.

You cant change the laws of nature via the laws of man Kelly.
Thank God we have you to tell us which is which.

No thank god we have SCIENCE!! to tell us which is which;/

In this case they have done one heck of alot of studies on it and basicaly.. we should all be dead already because humans completely utterly suck at driving.


"You cant change the laws of nature via the laws of man Kelly."

If a trucker can't see a small car - he's got to be hell on pedestrians and likely one of the 80+ mph guys that should have taken off the streets years ago.



I am not surprised you made a stupid decision given all your posts on this site.


Please flower children, do not bring Harry Potter mentality to the real world.
It is not rational to believe stuff like "Detroit:
1. Has hidden the 200 mpg carburetor (this is just too juvenile to discuss)
2. Does not want American small cars to succeed (that did not make sense in a free market in 1960, and now, foreign small cars have been stealing sales for over 40 years)
3. Brainwashed us into buying big cars (so what have you been buying with you spin dried brain? Oh, you mean brainwashed OTHERS. Right !)
4. Is cooperating with Big oil in some nefarious way (this is world class paranoia – is there ANY rationality to this?)
5. Makes stupid decisions. (like makes $ billions on trucks and SUVs for 40 years – the market for which never got below 45% – while market share for ALL hybrids, including Prius, never got above 6%. But making Priuses, EV1s and Volts might be stupid).
6. Could be raking in the dough selling EV1s. (So why isn’t Ford, Chrysler, Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Suzuki, Mazda, Subaru, Fiat, Citroen, Kia, Trabant, Gogomobile, Lamborghini, Tonka, Maybelline or etc, etc making one? Oh, the prius? I wish all cars were like the Prius. But wishes don’t count and few cars are like it, and hybrid sales never were high and are dropping).
Detroit makes more money on Trucks and SUVs today because the Tundra, Titan and Ridgeline have not caught up yet. It won’t be long, and then, without the UAW on their back, Japan, S. Korea and China will take that market too, whatever still exists.
I think a car without the back seat or doors, aerodynamically shaped like an Opel GT and made of light weight plastics is exciting too. Saleable? Nope. The Insight proves there are not enough geeks.
Please don’t assign evil motives to industry, like a simple minded Lenin, when it’s the people that choose poorly.
I love efficient little cars that only (only?) outweigh their payloads by about 15 to 1.
But low Asian labor rates, cheap gas, and American habits are slowing our conversion to small cars. I would not be at all surprised if I never buy an American car either. I would also not be surprised if soon there are no American cars nor workers nor industry nor jobs (except selling burgers and manicures to each other). The up side is we will then be receiving foreign aid from all those countries more "sensitive" that America.
Like those countries in the Mid-East, Asia, Balkans .. ...

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