Fiesta in December

2011 Ford Fiesta, North American version

The Ford Fiesta, that is, which will be revealed in its North American version at the L.A. Auto Show. Some 50,000 folks have already shown an interest in buying one. You may remember that, back in January, Ford began one smart marketing campaign by giving out cars to drivers who competed for the honor by posting videos on YouTube.

So the pump should already be primed for what is touted as the number-two-best-selling car in Europe. “Nearly 340,000 current generation Fiestas have been sold since the car was launched last autumn, with 21,800 delivered to customers in August alone.” The U.S. version will reportedly have a sophisticated 1.6-liter four that promises power with efficiency. The Fiesta will come with a good set of options, in a five-door hatchback or four-door configuration, and will hit showrooms next summer.

1980 Ford FiestaA personal note: My former wife had a ’79 Fiesta when I first met her. She drove the car from New York to Rhode Island and back every weekend. It never complained and after we got married stayed in the family, where it was frequently used and abused by teenage drivers. When my oldest son moved to Seattle, he took the car with him, and it finally rusted out and died after a life of well over 200,000 miles. See our CarGurus owner reviews here. They don’t make ‘em like that any more—though one hopes the new Fiesta will be as good.

Yet it still seems hard for Americans to adapt to small cars, and that may be one limitation on the sales not only of Ford Fiestas but of many desirable small cars now coming online. Autoblog reports on surveys showing that: The U.S. small-car market is down 15 percent “year over year” (whatever that means), used small-car prices are also way down, and prices for big ones are up. The people who “went small” in 2008 now want to go big.

Now part of this can be explained by lower gas prices, part by the consistently fickle nature of the U.S. car-buying public, which is something that has tripped up automakers—foreign and domestic—for years. When new models take two to three years minimum to produce, how can you plan and fill a pipeline when far fewer buyers may finally show up, and they’ve changed their preferences to boot?

The answer seems to be in something called “product (and environmental?) education,” which our companies have never really pursued. It’s just a lot easier to satisfy current demand, however it’s shaped. But that strategy will never survive in the coming much-diminished market for cars in general. And the public won’t adapt to small cars unless and until they perceive value and desirability in those cars, something that can be achieved only through intelligent marketing.

Proposed: “Small cars are the wave of the future, both here and abroad.” Weigh in with your opinion, please.

—jgoods

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