Yet another worry for beleaguered automakers: Consumers' gas-price-induced shift toward smaller cars could prove to be the impetus for increasing customer dissatisfaction. A new report from Mintel on new-car buyers says barely half of those who bought a small vehicle are "extremely happy" with it. By comparison, 80 percent of all new-car buyers reported extreme happiness with their purchase. Perhaps the disparity is to be expected, since a large majority of small-car buyers said they opted for the diminutive model due to its gas mileage, not out of some lifelong dream of driving a dinky little vehicle.
Another part of the survey (fielded in October) indicates that many of these people were trading down from something bigger: Fewer than half of those who purchased a small car (42 percent) were replacing a similar-size vehicle. To make the transition easier for people who are trading down from bigger vehicles, Mintel suggests automakers should make some luxury features (for example, surround-sound stereo and heated seats) standard equipment in small cars.