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Compact car (12554 views - Cars & Motorbikes & Trucks)

Compact car is a vehicle size class— predominantly used in North America— that sits between subcompact cars and mid-size cars. The present-day definition is equivalent to the European C-segment or the British term "small family car". However, prior to the downsizing of the United States car industry in the 1970s and 1980s, larger vehicles with wheelbases up to 110 in (2.79 m) were considered "compact cars" in the United States. In Japan, small size passenger vehicle is a registration category that sites between kei cars and regular cars, based on overall size and engine displacement limits.
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Compact car

Compact car

Compact car is a vehicle size class— predominantly used in North America— that sits between subcompact cars and mid-size cars. The present-day definition is equivalent to the European C-segment or the British term "small family car". However, prior to the downsizing of the United States car industry in the 1970s and 1980s, larger vehicles with wheelbases up to 110 in (2.79 m) were considered "compact cars" in the United States.

In Japan, small size passenger vehicle is a registration category that sites between kei cars and regular cars, based on overall size and engine displacement limits.

United States


Compact car is a largely North American term.

Compact cars usually have wheelbases between 100 inches (2,540 mm) and 109 inches (2,769 mm). The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines a "compact" car as measuring between 100 cubic feet (2.8 m3) and 109 cubic feet (3.1 m3) of combined passenger and cargo volume capacity. Vehicle class size is defined in the U.S. by environmental laws in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 40—Protection of Environment, Section 600.315-82 Classes of comparable automobiles.[1] Passenger car classes are defined based on interior volume index or seating capacity, except automobiles classified as a special vehicle such as those with only two designated seating positions.

Current compact car size, as defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for the US and for international models respectively, is approximately between:[2]

In the United States, the compact car segment currently holds a 16% share of the market.[3] This segment is dominated by import models.

1930s and 1940s

One of the first truly small cars on the U.S. market, in the sense that it was considerably smaller than the standard- size cars of its day, was the Austin Bantam that appeared in 1930.[4] Production of the British-based city car lasted only four years with a total of 20,000 units. Although other little cars such as the Crosley focused on low price and economy, "Americans did not take easily to small cars."[5]

The U.S. market after World War II experienced growth in sales in standard-sized cars. By 1947, Chevrolet had prototypes of the Cadet, an economy car developed by Earle S. MacPherson.[5] Ford also experimented with a "light car" and, unlike Chevrolet's Cadet, production ensued for the European market as a large car, the Ford Vedette.[5]


In 1950, Nash introduced a convertible Rambler model. It was built on a 100-inch (2,540 mm) wheelbase to which a station wagon, hardtop, and sedan versions were added. Compared to European standards, they were large.[5] Conceived by George W. Mason, the term "compact" was coined by George W. Romney as a euphemism for small cars with a wheelbase of 110 inches (2,794 mm) or less.[6][7] The Nash Rambler established a new market segment, it became known as "America's first small car", and the U.S. automobile industry soon adopted the "compact" term.[8][9]

Several competitors to the Nash Rambler arose from the ranks of America's other independent automakers, although none enjoyed the long-term success of the Rambler. Other early compact cars included the Henry J from Kaiser-Frazer (and its Sears, Roebuck and Company marketed variant the Allstate), as well as the Willys Aero and the Hudson Jet.

In 1952, Ford Division assistant general manager Robert S. McNamara started the Market Research Unit, which was given the job of finding out why smaller cars were becoming popular. In 1954, 64,500 of over 5 million cars sold in the United States were imports or small American cars. Ford alone sold over 1.4 million big cars. Yet five percent of those surveyed said they would consider a small car. The potential market totaled 275,000.[10] By 1955, the compact Rambler that began as a sideline convertible model became a success and was now available in a full-line of body styles, except for a convertible.[11] During the Recession of 1958, the only exception to the sales decline was American Motors with its compact, economy-oriented Ramblers that saw high demand among cautious consumers.[12]

Sales of small imported cars also increased as consumers turned to compacts that made up 14% of the US passenger car market by 1959.[13] The modern compact class expanded between 1958 and 1960 when the Studebaker Lark, Chevrolet Corvair, Ford Falcon, and Plymouth Valiant were brought to the market segment dominated by the Rambler American. These models also gave rise to compact vans that were sized similarly to the Volkswagen Type 2 microbus and were based from the Falcon, Corvair, and Valiant automobile platforms.

Ford Division marketing research manager George Brown said smaller cars appealed to people with a college education and a higher income whose families were buying more than one car. The cars had to offer not only high gas mileage but also headroom, legroom, and plenty of trunk space.[10]


During the 1960s, compacts were the smallest class of North American cars, but they had evolved into only slightly smaller versions of the 6-cylinder or V8-powered two-bench six-passenger sedan. They were much larger than imports by makers such as Volkswagen and Datsun, which were typically five-passenger 4-cylinder engine cars, even though ads for the Ford Maverick and Rambler American would make comparisons with the popular Volkswagen Beetle.

Compact cars were also the basis for a new small car segment that became known as the pony car, named after the Ford Mustang, which was built on the Falcon chassis. At that time, there was a distinct difference in size between compact and full-size models, and an early definition of the compact was a vehicle with an overall length of less than 200-inch (5,080 mm), much larger than European designs.


In the early 1970s, the domestic automakers introduced even smaller subcompact cars that included the AMC Gremlin, Chevrolet Vega, and Ford Pinto.

In 1973, the Energy Crisis started, which made small fuel efficient cars more desirable, and the North American driver began exchanging their large cars for the smaller, imported compacts that cost less to fill up and were inexpensive to maintain.

The 1977 model year marked the beginning of a downsizing of all vehicles, so that cars such as the AMC Concord and the Ford Fairmont that replaced the compacts were re-classified as mid-size, while cars inheriting the size of the Ford Pinto and Chevrolet Vega (such as the Ford Escort and Chevrolet Cavalier) became classified as compact cars. And even after the reclassification vehicles like the Ford Fairmont were far larger than international midsize sedans and rather on par with large cars such as the Ford Granada (Europe). It would not be until the 1980s that American cars were being downsized to truly international dimensions.

In the 1985 model year, compact cars classified by the EPA included Ford's Escort and Tempo, the Chevrolet Cavalier, Toyota Corolla, Acura Legend, Mercedes-Benz 300, Nissan Maxima, Volvo DL, and many others.[15]

Vehicle size classes as used in the US "Fuel Economy Guide"

Class[16] Interior volume index
Minicompact car < 85 cu ft (2.4 m3)
Subcompact car 85–99.9 cu ft (2.41–2.83 m3)
Compact car 100–109.9 cu ft (2.83–3.11 m3)
Midsize car 110–119.9 cu ft (3.11–3.40 m3)
Large car ≥ 120 cu ft (3.4 m3)
Small station wagon < 130 cu ft (3.7 m3)
Midsize station wagon 130–160 cu ft (3.7–4.5 m3)
Large station wagon ≥ 160 cu ft (4.5 m3)


2018-present Toyota Corolla
2013-2019 Mazda3


In Japan, vehicles that are larger than kei cars, but with dimensions smaller than 4,700 mm (185.0 in) long, 1,700 mm (66.9 in) wide, 2,000 mm (78.7 in) high and with engines at or under 2,000 cc (120 cu in) are classified as "small size" cars.

Small size cars are identified by a licence plate number beginning with "5". In the past, the small size category has received tax benefits stipulated by the Japanese government regulations, such as those in the 1951 Road Vehicle Act.[17]

1950s and 1960s

In 1955, the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry set forth a goal to all Japanese makers at that time to create what was called a "national car". The concept stipulated that the vehicle be able to maintain a maximum speed over 100 km/h (62 mph), weigh below 400 kg (882 lbs), fuel consumption at 30 km/L (85 mpg‑imp; 71 mpg‑US) or more, at an average speed of 60 km/h (37 mph) on a level road, and not require maintenance or significant service for at least 100,000 km (62,000 mi). This established a "compact car" target that was larger than what has become known as the "light car" or the kei car.

One of the first compact cars that met those requirements was the Toyota Publica with an air cooled two cylinder opposed engine, the Datsun 110 series, and the Mitsubishi 500. The Publica and the Mitsubishi 500 were essentially "kei cars" with engines larger than regulations permitted at the time, while the Datsun was an all-new vehicle. These vehicles were followed by the Hino Contessa in 1961, the Isuzu Bellett, Daihatsu Compagno and Mazda Familia in 1963, the Mitsubishi Colt in 1965, and the Nissan Sunny, Subaru 1000, and Toyota Corolla in 1966. Honda introduced their first four-door sedan in 1969, called the Honda 1300. In North America, these cars were classified as subcompact cars.

1970s to present

By 1970, Nissan released their first front-wheel-drive car that was originally developed by Prince Motor Company which had merged with Nissan in 1966. This was introduced in 1970 as the Nissan Cherry. In 1972, the Honda Civic appeared with the CVCC engine that was able to meet California emission standards without the use of a Catalytic converter.

See also

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This article uses material from the Wikipedia article "Compact car", which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0. There is a list of all authors in Wikipedia

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