Consumers have long operated under the presumption that “bigger is better,” which is often reflected in the size of the vehicles on the road. However, future mandates on fuel economy could significantly increase the number of compact cars being bought and sold, and big cars might get a run for their money.

In the past, bigger cars might have been the popular trend. Muscle cars of the 1960’s, giant sedans of the 1970’s and even the pumped-up SUVs of modern day are all bigger vehicles. But with the advent of the fuel-efficient car and hybrid or electric models, many people could find themselves driving a compact car in the next few years.

According to U.S. federal requirements, automotive industry products must average 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, and proposed regulations could increase that number to 62 mpg by 2025. What this means for auto makers and consumers alike is that small cars could grow increasingly popular.

Automakers are already beginning to invest heavily in smaller vehicles. Compact cars were popular and prominently featured attractions at auto shows throughout 2010 and into 2011.

Consumers who once leaned toward larger vehicles may now purchase compact cars thanks to escalating fuel costs and more eco-conscious consumerism. Compact hybrids have already become trendy among the celebrity set, and many fans may choose to emulate their favorite A-listers. The “green” movement has certainly changed consumer perception of small cars.

What’s more, automakers are revamping features that normally caused people to shy away from compact cars. Interior space is being reconfigured to offer more headroom and legroom. Plus, automakers are packing compacts with innovative features and gadgets that make them appealing to an increasingly tech-savvy society.

According to Ralph Gilles, Dodge CEO and Chrysler Group design chief, “Not only do people want them, but (the cars) are becoming more interesting.”

Even people who are not fiscally or environmentally minded may lean toward the abundance of smaller cars at dealerships. That’s because compact cars are affordable first cars or good options for singles and older couples looking to downsize. Young males may consider sporty, suped-up coupes. With small cars, there certainly is a widespread market.

The hardest demographic to convince to switch to a smaller car will be the average family. Families with multiple children might feel compact cars don’t provide the room needed to transport everyone. Automakers will no doubt address the needs of families in years to come.

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