Ford is finding Americans do like hatchbacks — at least in small cars. About half of the retail sales of Fiestas are hatchback models, and so are 41 percent of retail sales of the new Focus, which has been on the market only a few months.
Buyers are plunking down large deposits and ordering high trim levels and features, said Robert Parker, Ford's group marketing manager. "Between the fuel economy, the technology we're putting in the vehicles and the flexibility a five-door offers, we're seeing a lot more interest in our products," he said.
Hatchbacks traditionally have been popular in Canada and Europe, but have not resonated well with U.S. consumers. That appears to be changing. Data from WardsAuto.com show that the hatchbacks sold in the United States increased by 63 percent for the 2006-10 model years, from 291,853 to 475,048. Total car sales fell 23 percent in that period.
Europeans and Canadians, with less disposable income, often had a small car as the family vehicle. A hatchback offered more cargo space for the money. In the United States, however, hatchbacks became synonymous with cheap cars, small engines and boring design.
"The hatch was the vehicle for college kids with no money; and they were usually ugly," said analyst Dave Sullivan of AutoPacific Inc. in Ann Arbor, Mich. But "the hatch stigma is disappearing," he said. Today they have "European flair and a lot of utility and good gas mileage."
"American car buyers have become appreciative of the … flexibility that hatchback body styles offer after years of owning SUVs and crossovers," said Ford's George Pipas.
Sullivan argues that in reality, crossover drivers are driving hatchbacks — they just aren't calling it that.
Ford initially expected about 40 percent of Fiesta buyers would choose the five-door, but it has been trending as high as 60 percent and could end the year that way, Parker said. The unexpectedly high demand for the Fiesta hatch, he said, led Ford to adjust its sales projections for the Focus.
Chevy offers a Cruze hatch in Europe but didn't think there was demand to offer it here. Sullivan wonders whether GM could sell more Cruzes if it offered a hatchback.