The early '80s saw plenty of cars that would be considered efficient even by today's standards enjoy sales success in America, from the Toyota Starlet to the Honda CRX HF, which sometimes leads people to ask "Well why don't they just sell those cars again?"There's this potent reality-distortion field surrounding the DC beltway. Once inside it, people seem to think that the laws of physics will bend to a majority vote or a bureaucratic edict handed down after a mandatory public comment period.
Because they wouldn't be legal to sell. They lack airbags. They'd fail side-impact and offset crash tests. And, more importantly, have you looked inside a small car lately? All but the most wretched clean-it-out-with-hose loss leaders on your neighborhood dealer's lots are stuffed full of things that used to be considered amenities: power windows, remote adjustable mirrors, power door locks with remote. Automatic transmissions outnumber manuals in passenger cars by a staggering margin, and even performance-oriented cars are like as not to have some paddle-shifted clutchless setup rather than the classic three-pedal row-your-own.
The aforementioned Toyota Starlet, one of which was my dad's commuter vehicle for many years, was a two-door hatchback on a tiny sub-92" wheelbase that weighed in at under 1700lbs; by comparison, a current Prius stretches over 106" between the axles and weighs in at over 3,000 pounds. (And lest you think that's all batteries, even the current Mini outweighs a Starlet by better than 700 pounds despite being a good ten inches shorter.)
I don't mind austere cars that crumple like beer cans in a wreck, but the rest of the market seems to think differently...