Small is the new big. Not too long ago, the world’s automakers were engaged in a virtual arms race to satisfy the American public’s appetite for hulking sport utility vehicles. General Motors Corp.’s jumbo-sized Chevy Suburban was topped by Ford Motor Co.’s mammoth Excursion. GM’s Hummer, originally a U.S. military vehicle, was sold in a civilian model to buyers who wanted to tower over other motorists. Even the Japanese got into the race. Now Japan’s big automakers stand to profit from galloping gas prices as they prepare to roll out a batch of fuel-efficient small vehicles. The move could spell additional trouble for Detroit, which still seems obsessed with gas-gulping muscle cars. The subcompacts from Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co., which established themselves here in the 1970s with small, reliable, fuel-efficient vehicles, will deliver fuel economy in high-30-miles-per-gallon territory at prices starting at about $12,000. In March, Toyota will launch the Yaris sedan and three-door hatchback, followed by Honda’s Fit, a five-door hatchback in April, and Nissan’s Versa hatchback in May and a sedan in the fall. The Yaris is a third smaller than the Suburban and weighs almost a […]

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