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Size: Meanings range widely

Published on .

Steve Martin in the 1970s urged people to "get small." He wasn't talking about Chevy Vegas and Ford Pintos, but in the 21st century, small cars attract more attention as the U.S. grapples with gas prices that hover around $3 a gallon. In today's market, the question really becomes: What is a small car?

"Most people think of it as subcompacts," says Wes Brown, analyst at Iceology, "but in general the market has gone all over the place. Generally, it's overall length and size, but now price doesn't matter. Small has nothing to do with price for some small cars like Mini."

Advertising Age Detroit Bureau Chief Jean Halliday also put the question to several other auto marketing executives and analysts:

Mark Templin

VP, Toyota's Scion:

"When people think about small cars they think about size and price. But now a lot of Europeans are bringing in small premium cars."

George Murphy

Global senior VP-marketing, Chrysler Group:

"It's about affordability and attainable in the range of [a] $150-$250 [car payment] per month and typically translates to a smaller-size vehicle. But small doesn't mean you can't have innovation, style and safety. It's a misperception."

Dan Gorrell

Partner, Strategic Vision:

"It's all blurred now. ... It's evolving into a different kind of thing than we remembered as classic small cars associated with less expensive. We see in Audi A3 an emotional appeal where you have the sexuality of a sports car with functionality."

George Peterson

President, AutoPacific:

"We would say kind of below the compact class-subcompacts, with the [Kia] Rio, [Chevrolet] Aveo, Honda [Fit] and [Scion] Xa. None are high volume."
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