The hatchback — a car with a top-hinged rear door, or hatch, instead of a separate trunk — has for years been held in such low esteem by buyers that automakers invented euphemisms to describe them, if they offered them at all. Now, they're making a comeback, driven by a push to roomy, fuel-efficient alternatives to crossovers or bigger cars.
Sales of hatchbacks from all brands increased 63% from the 2006 to the 2010 model years, says Ford Motor, citing data from Ward's Automotive. By comparison, total car sales fell 21% in the same period.
Ford officials say 43% of buyers opt for hatchback versions of its Focus compact, instead of the sedan. Its smaller Fiesta hatchback is hot, too. "A surprising number of people are taking the hatch," says Robert Parker, group marketing manager for Ford.
Hyundai expects 40% of sales of the new version of its Accent subcompact, which just arrived in showrooms, to be hatchbacks. Chevrolet's new smallest car, the Sonic, will come in a hatch version. Kia says its recently introduced Forte hatchback is beating expectations.
Among electrified models, the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric and Toyota Prius hybrid are hatchbacks.
Only recently have automakers started calling them hatchbacks again. For years, they tried to foist them on buyers as fastbacks, five-doors, liftbacks or other terms. The hatchback market "is very cyclical," says spokesman Jeremy Barnes of Mazda, whose Mazda3 hatch is the sportier version of the compact.
How automakers are luring buyers back:
•Luxury touches. Hatchbacks sold to college students of the 1970s and 1980s were often the cheapest cars on the lot. Now, they're being packed with features at least equal to their sedan stablemates. "The hatch used to be the lowest common denominator, and now, they are making them more premium," says George Peterson, president of consultant AutoPacific.
•Better looks. The hatchback of yore sometimes looked like a lopped-off sedan. Now, they are getting swoopier, more distinctive styling.
•Enhanced security. One of the biggest knocks on hatchbacks used to be that thieves could see luggage or other valuables in back. Today's hatchbacks all have built-in covers.
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