Small Cars, High Hopes

Wounded by their reputation for cruddy compacts, the Big Three save face with a new fleet of hot wheels

We all know about small American cars. Even as the U.S. auto industry pulled itself out of its '80s slough with its nifty minivans and reborn muscle cars, Detroit's compacts continued to deserve their reputation as cheap, homely, unreliable and, well, maybe a cut above Yugos and Trabants and the like, but not by much. Even their makers now admit that American compacts have been, for the most part, junk. Listen to Ford's Jerry Auth, a marketing executive: "Small cars built by Ford, GM and Chrysler were considered inferior -- and they were." Says Chrysler's Walter Battle, a planning manager: "They...

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