In the early 1980’s the hatchback craze took Europe by storm. Some would say the Hot-Hatch’s popularity is the leading cause of death amongst British sports cars between the ages of 25-40 years old. Others would point to bounteous bureaucratic foibles that led to the collapse of many once heralded auto makers. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that the Hatchback begun gaining popularity in a market whilst British owned and manufactured automobiles simultaneously declined.

British built autos fell from 1.7 million units annually down to a paltry 888,000. (But that is another article entirely). Nonetheless the hatchback had arrived… in a big way. And the “Hot-Hatch” was not far behind. Motorways were abuzz with hatchbacks. At least, this is the case in Europe, and for a short time it seemed to be the case in the US. However, on this side of the pond the sprightly little hatches all but disappeared subsequent to the initial boom in the 1980’s. As of late, the intrinsically European styled automobile is making a comeback. But is it too late for the land of liberty to embrace these lovable little laugh machines?

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Until recently if you were driving a hatchback in The States, you may be mocked and called names, such as, an anglophile, a communist, or worse a hippy! Ironically some of the greatest hot-hatches (and best-selling cars in the UK) are manufactured by… you guessed it, Ford Motor Company. Actually, let’s go back to 1985 for a moment: 4 of the top 10 cars sold in the UK are manufactured by Ford Motor Company. The escort and fiesta are in the number 1 and 3 spots selling 154,000 and 124,000 respectively. Two additional fords can be found in the top 10 selling cars totaling 167,000 units between them. One is the Ford Sierra known here in the US as an epic consumer fail, the Merkur Scorpio/ XR4Ti. The Orion is the other Ford in the top ten (although not a hatch and not available in the United States). Additionally, 7 of the top ten cars sold are hatch backs, that figure has increased from 7, to 9 of the top 10 cars sold in the UK today.

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Comparatively, American hatchback sales in 1980 were led by the ever so popular Volkswagen Golf. In its first year running, the MK1 Golf sold a whopping 191,000 units. Oddly enough when the more powerful GTI 16v model was introduced in 1985, Golf sales fell to 77,000 and that includes the standard GL model. Mind you, 1985 was a record year in cars sales for the USA at that time. Plus Car and Driver named the Golf GTI the ‘best driver car’ of the year, and Motor Trend honored it with the ‘car of the year’ award, so you know it was no slouch. Yet, all the while Truck and SUV sales have been skyrocketing.

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As of April 2017, the highest volume vehicles sales by model, in the US are, Ford’s F-Series, Chevy Silverado, and the Dodge Ram… All pickup trucks. The total quantity of the three combined is in excess of 600,000! As a matter of fact, a hatch back doesn’t even creep into to the top 20 vehicles sold in the US. The most popular hatchback in America being the focus, ranks as the 29 th most popular car sold in 2016. The next most popular hatchback is the Golf at 63rd, and the Fiesta not until 103rd! That is the same Fiesta that is the bestselling car of all time in the UK with 4,132,294 sold (as of June 2014). Just behind the Fiesta, is the previous reigning title holder FORD Escort (4,105,192 sold).

For some reason though, pseudo hatchbacks like the Toyota Rav4, the Nissan Rogue, and the Honda CRV, make it in the top 10 regularly. Perhaps Jonny Lieberman of Motor Trend summed it up best a couple years ago on an episode of “Head 2 Head” when he said:

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“Americans hate hatch backs… won’t buy them. But the manufacturers have figured out, ‘hey if you take a hatchback and lift it by 50mm, slap on a skid plate, sell them as an SUV’ we cant stop buyin’em.”

So why didn’t a segment of vehicles dominated by American made souped-up family car flourish in America the way it did in Europe? For all one knows it is because we did not have the hot-hatch arms race with the likes of, the Peugot 205 GTI, Lancia Delta Integrale, the Renault 5 GT Turbo, or even the Ford Escort RS Cosworth edition (plus many more).

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Maybe it’s the difficult safety and emission standards in North America? (That is another article entirely and you can pick up one end of that argument at a link below).

What we do know is that car companies are now making efforts to spark the interest of the hot-hatch here in America once again. Some great examples are the Fiesta ST ( #FiST ), and the Focus ST. VW as always perseveres with the GTI. Hyundai has continued its efforts with the Veloster. Even Honda is getting in the spirit of the hot-hatch comeback with the reintroduction of the Civic Type-R. Not only has the industry began to support this movement but the consumer appears to be responding with enthusiasm as well.

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Regardless of what my friends and family might tell you, I am an optimist. I am excited about the future, particularly the future of Hot-Hatches, and I believe we did not miss the boat. The best of the hot-hatch battles “R” yet to come...

Better late than never I suppose.

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Honda Civic - Wikipedia

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) is one of the largest and most influential trade associations in the UK. Its resources, reputation and unrivalled automotive data place it at the heart of the UK automotive industry.

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*{US Sales Graphics Carsalesbase.com, NADA.org}

*{UK sales Graphics SMMT}