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As other car sales slump, hatchbacks stage comeback

June 2, 2017
While cars sales plummet and buyers switch to SUVs, the underappreciated hatchback body style is enjoying a minor renaissance as a rush of new models go on sale.
In 2017, compact and subcompact car sales are down 25 percent. But hatchbacks in those classes have risen 16 percent. A rush of new models will test the strength of that demand.
"Hatchbacks are the nugget of hope for the small car segment," Ford sales analyst Erich Merkle said.
It’s been a truism in the auto industry for decades that Americans don’t want hatchbacks. The body style never seemed to recover from the bad first impression it made long ago with models such as the Chevrolet Chevette, Dodge Omni and Ford Pinto. Weak sales of more recent introductions seemed to support the theory.
Through it all, Ford kept the faith, and its persistence may be paying off.
"Ford’s been in the hatchback small-car sector since we introduced the Fiesta in 2010 and the Focus hatch shortly thereafter," Merkle said. "They’ve both been strong."
Hatchbacks account for about a quarter of industry small car sales. The Fiesta and Focus outperform that significantly at 33 percent and 40 percent, respectively. Other automakers hope to equal Ford’s experience as they rely on hatchbacks to offset the drop in sales of their compact and subcompact sedans.
Chevrolet, Honda, Hyundai and Subaru all have new hatchbacks, in addition to longstanding players like the Volkswagen Golf and Mazda 3.
"They’re currently enjoying their own little renaissance," buying guide website’s editors wrote in a recent comparison of several hatchbacks. "With this year’s introduction of the Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback, Honda Civic Hatchback and Toyota Corolla iM, compact car shoppers now have nine hatchbacks from which to choose.
"You don’t have to give up the efficiency and affordability of a mainstream compact car to get SUV-like cargo versatility."
That versatility has long made hatchbacks a favorite in Europe, where hatchbacks’ combination of modest overall length and generous cargo space is a major selling point.