NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- How did some of the tiniest cars on the road become "cool"?
Each year, the folks at auto pricing Web site Kelley Blue Book rank the Top 10 "coolest cars under $18,000," and each year there seems to be more emphasis on the compact and subcompact categories. That isn't incredibly surprising, considering that small cars are just about the only non-SUVs anyone seems to want to buy right now.
Through April, sales of SUVs and crossovers are up 13.3%, according to MotorIntelligence.com. Crossover SUVs lead all vehicles with more than 1.3 million sold, or roughly 200,000 more than the venerable midsize sedan, but small cars are carving out a big niche of their own.
Small-car sales are up 3.3%, with the more than 1 million compact and subcompact cars sold through April nearly doubling the sales of noncrossover SUVs (539,000).
This isn't exactly a recent development, either. Ten years ago, automakers sold 2.35 million compact cars in the U.S. and a paltry 277,000 subcompacts, according to auto pricing Web site Edmunds.com. They made up 13.9% and 1.6% of the market, respectively, and were engulfed by SUVs and fuel that cost $2.31 per gallon.
In postrecession 2012, with the average price of a gallon of gas hitting $3.63, compact sales grew modestly to 2.4 million while subcompact sales soared to 736,000. By that time, however, compact cars made up 16% of the market while subcompacts more than tripled their share to 5.1%.
"In the past decade, the growth in the number of available models for the subcompact car segment has significantly impacted their market share," Edmunds representative Allie Zamaria said. "In the past couple of years, the influx of popular new alternatives such as compact crossover SUVs has contributed the to slight market share decline of smaller cars, along with lower fuel prices and a recovering economy. The compact car segment has been the second-best-selling in the industry since 2010, following midsize cars."
While their portion of the auto market dropped from more than 21% to about 19.5% today, their sales have increased steadily as automakers crammed more amenities into little, fuel-efficient packages. While "cool" is a bit subjective, KBB and Edmunds pointed us toward compact and subcompact vehicles that not only go easy on the gas, but take the pain out of the sticker price as well: