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Chevy and Hyundai Crash the Compact Car Party

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For the longest time, it seemed like the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic were the Lakers and Celtics of compact cars.

Year in, year out they dominated the category.

Sometimes it was because the competition from Detroit was non-existent.

Sometimes because they were so far superior to their competition from around the world it was a joke.

Those days are gone.

With compact car sales surging due to higher gas prices, Toyota and Honda find they no longer dominate the category.

Take a look at the chart below at the percentage of compact car sales in April of this year compared with April of last year.

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April '10
April '11
Toyota Corolla 23% 16.3%
Honda Civic 21.0% 18.1%
Ford Focus 11.8 % 11.7%
Chevy Cobalt 11.5% xxxx
Chevy Cruze xxxx 17.0%
Hyundai Elantra 8.0 % 15.0 %
Source: AutoData

It doesn't take a genius to see that the Chevy Cruze and Hyundai Elantra have crashed the compact car party. While it's hard to nail down hard figures, it is clear the two models are taking business from the Corolla and Civic. To quote one dealer, "It's no longer a slam dunk when someone walks in looking for a small car that they will automatically buy Toyota or Honda."

To be fair, sales of the Corolla and Civic may have slowed down a bit due to supply shortages in Japan forcing both automakers to curb their production here in the US. That said, there is no denying there is now parity in the compact car category. Heck, the Cruze outsold the Corolla last month and GM has closed the gap between itself and Toyota when it comes to small cars.

Give the Chevy and Hyundai credit for having two models that are as strong as the Corolla and Civic. If you haven't driven the new Cruze, do yourself a favor and take one out for a spin. Unlike its predecessor, the Cobalt, the Cruze does not come off as a cheap looking and feeling small car. Meanwhile, the Elantra symbolizes why Hyundai is coming up strong in the rear view mirror of the Japanese automakers. The fit and finish of the Elantra is one of the first things to surprise people the first time they get in one.

Yes, just as the Lakers and Celtics eventually found that others would rise up and challenge their dominance, Toyota and Hyundai now find themselves in a similar spot.

Game on.

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