Total small-car sales increased by 14% in July over the same-month sales last year. Although gas prices began to fall back below $4 a gallon last month, prices are still hitting consumers hard and forcing them to trade in their larger SUVs and pickups for small cars. Top sellers, such as the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cobalt and Ford Focus, have attracted the attention of more car buyers than last year, as noted in the chart below.

Small-car sales are expected to climb to 2,716,400 units by year end, growing by 14% over 2007 sales, according to AutoPacifc third-quarter new-vehicles sales forecast. AutoPacific actually revised its forecast from its second-quarter prediction of 2,424,500 units. New subcompacts entering the market in 2009 will help boost overall sales even further. Ford will unveil its 2010 Ford Fiesta next year while Chrysler will begin selling its 2011 Dodge Hornet the following year. And GM also recently announced its plans to release the 40-mpg-plus Chevrolet Cruze (Cobalt replacement) to the U.S. market in the middle of 2010.

Further hikes in gas prices over the past few months are likely to have a lasting impact on consumer new-vehicle buying preferences. A little over half of SEMA members surveyed earlier this year said that they manufacture and/or sell custom parts and accessories for small cars. With more small cars on the road this year, companies serving this market could stand to benefit by taking advantage of potential sales opportunities that lie ahead.

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