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GfK study finds US consumers favoring compacts over sub-compacts or alternative energy vehicles

Rising fuel demand is pushing demand for smaller cars. Source: GfK. Click to enlarge.

Responding to high fuel prices, US consumers are increasingly looking for more cost-effective and fuel-efficient vehicles, with compact cars rapidly gaining in demand. However, researchers from GfK Custom Research North America’s Automotive sector found that, while demand for compact cars is high, that same demand doesn’t carry over into smaller sub-compact cars or Alternative Energy Vehicles (AEVs), including hybrid and electric vehicles.

In May, 2011, compact car accounted for 18.1% of six-month light vehicle demand compared to 3.6% for subcompact cars. AEVs demand currently represents 9.4% of light vehicle demand. Demand, as opposed to sales, is what GfK considers “free demand”, said Doug Scott, senior vice president, consulting, GfK Automotive.

All things being equal, that’s the level of interest (specific handraisers) for hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric Cars whether on the market today or potentially coming on the market in the nearer-term, etc. It likely has some longer-term (12-24 months) people are in there too who are “pulled ahead” because of all the PR out there today and the volatile gas prices. All the PR from the many manufacturers about how they are tooling up for entry into the environmental market also stimulates demand.

—Doug Scott

Compact are benefitting from the shift, sub-compacts are not. Source: GfK. Click to enlarge.

GfK’s Automotive Intentions and Purchases Study found a strong relationship between surges in gas prices over the past four years and increases in demand for sub-compact and compact vehicles. GfK’s researchers also find that AEV demand is hindered by three major obstacles: lower familiarity, higher purchase prices, and lack of convenience.

The average consumer looking to purchase a new vehicle, especially during these times of rising gas prices, sees more value in smaller vehicles with traditional gas engines—some of which approach 40 mpg—rather than hybrids or even electric vehicles, said Scott.

However, while consumers are looking at smaller vehicles due to high gas prices, they aren’t willing to go all the way down to a subcompact car. Consumers are discovering that newer compact cars offer the comfort features before only reserved to larger cars, combined with the fuel economy that was only available in much smaller cars.

There are certain emotional benefits that AEV drivers feel that automakers need to communicate to a wider audience of potential customers. The feeling of pride associated with owning a vehicle that is environmentally friendly has resonated with consumers inclined towards “green” behaviors, and automakers must develop their marketing strategies to communicate both the tangible benefits, while also addressing the obstacles consumers face with purchasing AEVs.

—Doug Scott

Established in the early 1980s, the GfK Automotive Intentions and Purchases Study (AIP) is a monthly and quarterly tracking study that monitors consumer demand for new cars and trucks in the US market. The AIP Study is continuously in the field, using a blended panel of online sample sources. GfK receives approximately 200,000 completed surveys each quarter, which includes 90,000 new vehicle intenders. The AIP Study has been conducted continuously since 1982.



A compact Cruze or Focus would have been considered small decades ago. The mid sized like an Impala has been replaced by the smaller SUV. People change their minds about what they think they need, but a Cruze has about the same room as a C series Mercedes, which is enough for most.


Gas above $4.50/gal for an extended period may convince a few more buyers to acquire more fuel efficient vehicles.

Another 36+ months of the current economic crisis will also help.


Cruze is not that small, its a midsize. 94ft3 of passenger room and 16ft3 in the trunk. The Volt is classed as a compact since the battery tunnel steals some passenger room. Few Americans buy compacts and even fewer buy subcompacts.

Here is a full listing for 2012:



2012 Chevrolet Cruze
EPA Class Compact


If you want people to buy even smaller cars your forced to make the commute far less stressful dangerous and long.. Otherwise go to hell.


I am not sure what that means and I don't really care.


If you dont know what it means your part of the problem.


your forced

I assume you meant you're forced, as in you are.


Oh.. sorry im a tad cranky lately.. I always get your and you are missed up.

My view is unless we do something to make the commuter paths safer to drive.. mostly by making them bigger with more lanes and wider lanes we will be cramming right up against a wall we cant move.

To speed things up we need drivers alot more relaxed then they are today.


"Demand, as opposed to sales, is what GfK considers “free demand”, said Doug Scott, senior vice president, consulting, GfK Automotive."

Sales numbers for smaller sub-compact cars or Alternative Energy Vehicles (AEVs), including hybrid and electric vehicles are not so good.

So use Demand; what we wish were true.


CAFE has set goals that are attainable and now the car makers have to meet them. I just hope that they do not game the system by saying E85 cars run on E85 all the time and thus use less gasoline.


SJC, the EPA determines what size a car is.. go to their website, I posted their link. I think most of the compacts sold in the US today are right at the borderline to midsized.. part of feature creep I guess, for advertising bragging rights.

Dont forget the hugely popular "compact" of 1960, the Ford Falcon

Stan Peterson

Gee this study must have taken at least thirty seconds perusing the auto sales figures to complete.

I assume the government paid millions for this data.


Have you looked at the EPA's list of Subcompact cars. It includes the Audi A5, Ford Mustang, BMW 650i, Nissan GT-R, Astin Martin Rapide...

Not exactly what most of us think of as "Subcompact" vehicles.


Mid sized is a Fusion or Malibu, the Cruze and Focus are compact.

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