Where are the entry-level vehicles?

By Henry Payne - The Detroit News

DETROIT — Since its development of the Model T in 1908, Ford Motor Co. has been synonymous with building affordable, entry-level vehicles for the working class. By 1924 the price of a Model T Runabout had fallen to just $260 — the equivalent of about $3,900 in today’s dollars.

Fast-forward to 2020, and Ford does not offer a single vehicle for less than $20,000 when delivery fees are included. And Ford is not alone. As Detroit automakers increasingly abandon affordable sedans for higher-priced SUVs, Asian carmakers are only too happy to pick up those entry-level sales and possibly gain loyal customers for life.

Since Ford ended production of its entry-level Fiesta and Focus cars last year, the most affordable vehicle in the automaker’s lineup is the $21,090 Ford Ecosport SUV ($19,995 MSRP plus $1,095 delivery fee).

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has seven brands in the United States. Since it discontinued U.S. sales of the Fiat 500 for 2020 and axed the Dodge Dart in 2016 — both slow-sellers — not a single vehicle in the automaker’s lineup is priced under $20,000.

Among Detroit brands, only Chevrolet — traditionally the value nameplate at General Motors Co. — still offers vehicles below that $20,000 price-point: the subcompact Sonic at $17,595 and the wee Spark at $14,095, both with delivery fees included.

The entry-level market is now dominated by Asian makers like Hyundai. The Korean automaker’s new subcompact Venue SUV _ loaded with features like automatic collision-braking and remote smartphone-app connectivity — starts at $17,350. That’s about $3,700 less than Ford’s similarly sized EcoSport.

“Our young customers want SUVs, and we have the most affordable SUV on the market,” Mike O’Brien, Hyundai’s vice president of product development, said at the Venue’s media launch in Miami this winter. “We feel the entry-level market is key to bringing new customers into the brand.”

Kia (the $18,610 Soul) and Nissan ($19,965 Kicks) are the only other manufacturers to offer sub-$20,000 SUVs.

By Henry Payne

The Detroit News

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