In the U.S, the hatchback is the downtrodden sibling to the sedan. All over the world hatchbacks are quite popular primarily because the higher fuel prices make these vehicles a better value. Here’s what a hatchback offers:
- A smaller overall package than a sedan (good for parking).
- Better utility than a sedan, since the 3rd or 5th door makes it a wagon.
- Hatchbacks are generally lighter than a sedan which improves fuel efficiency.
- More configuration options to use the vehicle for cargo or passengers.
- Hatchbacks are cars, unlike heavy SUVs/Trucks which use body on frame construction.
Why are hatchbacks so disliked in the U.S.? Primarily, this has to do with the history of this car configuration as well as the tastes of the average consumer.
- In the 1970s, hatchbacks were imported due to high gasoline prices. These vehicle were generally low end cheaper vehicles. Hatchbacks inherited this reputation as being low end and cheap.
- Americans have always preferred larger vehicles. Over time cars have gotten larger and heavier. Even hatchbacks. In 1980, the Honda Civic HB was a very small car only about 1300 pounds. The equivalent hatchback sold today is over 2700 pounds (this is also the weight of my 2002 Civic HB).
- Low gasoline prices make smaller cars less desirable. This is not a uniquely American trait. When people have access to disposable income and relatively cheap gasoline, they go bigger.
1982 Toyota Starlet. A cheap hatchback of its day.
Many Failed Attempts…
There have been many failed attempts to bring the hatchback back into the U.S market. Most are not having much success as the vehicles below are mostly off the market due to poor sales. Hatchbacks are not always cheap, there are expensive ones as well. However, still the only ones that sell consistently enough to make a profit for the automaker are still the cheap ones.
The dead and dying list:
- BMW briefly imports the 3-series hatchback the 318ti.
- Mercedes briefly imported the C-series hatchback, the C230.
- Mazda briefly imported the excellent 5door 6 series mid size sedan.
- Audi is currently importing the A3 small 5door hatchback.
- Chevrolet gave the hatchback a good effort with the Malibu MAXX. When it came time to upgrade the car to the new generation platform, the hatchback was dropped.
A few notable good selling and new hatchbacks. All of these cars are lower cost models, and not in the luxuary category:
- Hyundai Accent.
- Chevrolet Aveo.
- Honda Fit.
- Ford is back in the market with two new hatchbacks, the Fiesta and Focus.
Enter The Savior – Toyota Prius
|The slippery Toyota Prius
The best selling hatchback in the U.S is: the Toyota Prius Hybrid! Initially, the first generation Prius model was a sedan. The second as well as the current third generation Pruis’ are hatchbacks. It’s interesting that the buyers of this vehicle don’t seem to mind that it’s not a sedan. In fact, the hatchback format has given the Prius an unintended competitive advantage: uniqueness. Because the Prius is a dreaded hatchback, most people can recognize it quickly because it stands out. It’s unique form has become synonymous with “Hybrid”.
Toyota probably went to the hatchback format because there was a design advantage: the hatchback format can be streamlined more easy to limit air drag. This makes the vehicle more efficient at higher speed. After all, the hybrid is sold as a ‘fuel efficient’ vehicle.
My 2002 Honda Hatchback. It is often mistaken for a hybrid.
Can the Prius save the hatchback format? Well, another competitor, Honda, has introduced a similar Hatchback Hybrid that is a dead giveaway to the Prius. Ford, as mentioned above, is introducing two new (albeit cheap) hatchbacks. Hybrids are giving this format a new life, but I wouldn’t bet on any new love affair with the hatchback in America anytime soon.