DETROIT (TheStreet) - The Ford (F - Get Report) Fiesta subcompact takes its overseas success stateside this month, and may bring some of its foreign friends with it.

The first Ford Fiestas and their 29 mpg city and 40 mpg highway mileage ratings arrived at dealerships last week, looking for a share of a U.S. market that's embraced the Mini and, to a lesser extent, smaller models by Honda ( HMC - Get Report) and Mazda. The Fiesta is the first subcompact for Ford has sold in the U.S. since its Festiva and Aspire models rolled to a halt here in 1997. Though 12 million Fiestas have been sold worldwide since 1976, most of those sales were made in Europe and none have rolled off a lot in America since 1980, when the line was replaced by the Escort.

The small-car market isn't what it used to be, however, as even the popular Mini's sales have stagnated -- up only 0.1% this year as sales of the Mini Cooper convertible bolster slumping hardtop and Clubman models. It's a far worse picture for Mini's tiny European competitor Smart, whose sales have been up month-over-month this year but declined 64% in 2010 compared to the same period in 2009 as high starting prices and relatively low gas mileage keep customers away. Even well-received subcompacts like the feature-laden Honda Fit, which saw sales this year drop more than 19% from 2009, are under pressure as consumers crave crossovers and more spacious mid-sized vehicles.

The more than 8,000 Fiesta pre-orders Ford touted in February may spare the subcompact a similar fate, but stronger sales this year could open the door to other auto emigres eyeing the U.S. market. Here are just five of the small cars that could make it big in the U.S. in the near future:

5. Fiat 500:

ETA: Later this year

When Fiat announced its takeover of Chrysler and its intent to import this zippy little Italian toy to the U.S. later this year, an entire generation put a palm to its forehead. This, after all, was the car that was mocked as an acronym for "Fix it again, Tony" when its unreliable nature and penchant for rust drove it from American showrooms in 1983. However, with a new look that resembles a Volkswagen Beetle or a Mini, anti-lock brakes and seven airbags and a fuel mileage that ranges from 38 miles per gallon in the city and 55 on highways for the base model to 47 mpg city and a whopping 71 highway for its diesel engine, the new Fiat 500 should make a lot more friends than Tony during its latest visit to the states.

4. Alfa Romeo MiTo:

ETA: 2013

Until a Fiat investor presentation in April, Chrysler and Fiat's handling of Alfa Romeo inquiries has been coy at best and elusive to hostile at worst. During the presentation, however, Fiat revealed that large Giulia sedan and crossover models and an Alfa SUV would debut first in 2012.

The far more exciting news comes in 2013 when the Spider (made famous as Dustin Hoffman's car in The Graduate) and the five-door MiTo subcompact make their way across the pond. The MiTo, by every indication, should be a hit. It has 8.8 cubic feet of storage space and TomTom navigation built in. Its zippiest model goes from zero to 60 mph in eight seconds and its diesel version gets 39 mpg city and 65 mpg highway. Even the least-efficient MiTo with its turbo engine gets a combine 30 miles per gallon. Plus both the car and its name -- a portmanteaus of its cities of origin, Milan and Torino, that will likely be anglicized into "me too" -- suffer from an acute case of cuteness.

3. Tata Nano:

ETA: 2013

Tata Motors ( TTM) rode the strength of its Jaguar and Land Rover brands to a 50% year-over-year sales increase in May, but is still best known for the Nano -- the world's cheapest car at less than $2,200. However, Tata plans to raise that price by a few hundred dollars to meet emissions standards, which is an important first step toward the U.S. marketplace.

Earlier this year at an auto show in New Delhi, Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata announced company plans to introduce a U.S. version of the Nano with a larger engine and increased crash protection within three years. The big problem is that the bargain-bin Nano sold in India has myriad quirks that will drive Smart-averse American drivers batty: A two-cylinder engine, no power steering, one windshield wiper, three lug nuts on each wheel, one side-view mirror, no air bags and no air conditioning. Though a U.S. version will be more substantial and costly, the only way to further strip down this car is to paint it white and write "car" on the side in plain black type.

2. Mercedes A-Class

ETA: When gas hits $9 a gallon

Mercedes-Benz put this subcompact hatchback in its global stable back in 1997, but refuses to sell it in the U.S., China, India and other select countries. Such a slight was understandable in the car's early days, when this undersized, underpowered "baby Benz" would flip over when swerving to avoid obstacles. A tweak in 2004 enhanced stability, increased interior space 15% and added features like a DVD player, navigation, integrated steering wheel for radio and phone controls, sliding sunroof and sensor-based parking system. Owners also can choose between an 82-horsepower lightweight that gets 52 miles per gallon on the highway or a more Benz-like 193-horsepower beast that tops out at 135 miles per hour, goes from zero to 60 in eight seconds and still gets 40 miles to the gallon.

It may be some time before we see it here, though, as the only Mercedes models Americans embrace with any enthusiasm are the C-Class and E-Class cars -- with sales of the latter more than doubling this year over last. Increasing interest and investment in M-, GL- and GLK-Class SUVs and crossovers show Mercedes willingness to cater to consumer whim, but until we see a spike in gas prices similar to the one that sent buyers scrambling for old Geo Metros a few years back, the A-Class will remain abroad.

1. Chery QQ

ETA: Originally this year, now uncertain

The story of Chinese automaker Chery and its painfully cute QQ has been a tragedy here in the U.S., where an export deal it signed with Chrysler in 2007 fell apart by 2008 amid Chrysler's sale and its pursuit of bailout dollars amid a recession-strapped, China-averse U.S. economic climate. The deal would have put Chery models including the 12-foot, 51- to 67-horsepower QQ on Chrysler lots by 2009 or 2010, despite claims from Chevrolet that the car was a blatant ripoff of the Matiz model produced by its South Korean subsidiary Daewoo. With Chrysler now cuddling up with the aforementioned Fiat, Ford having fun with its Fiesta and an infuriated GM wanting nothing to do with copycat Cherys, the chances of the little QQ coming over from China are as small as the car itself.

-- Reported by Jason Notte in Boston.


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Jason Notte is a reporter for His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post,, Time Out New York, The Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.