The fuel-efficient Ford Focus is a fast-mover on dealer lots, as consumers in many segments respond to higher gas prices and growing interest in smaller vehicles.

"We can’t get enough of them," says Scott Taylor, vice president of Troy (Ohio) Ford. "We’re selling them to every age group, young and old. About the only thing Focus customers seem to have in common is a desire for a vehicle that offers great value and is fuel efficient."

Focus sales have increased steadily in 2006, from 13,638 units in February, to 16,171 in March to 17,917 in April. As a result, the company has improved its inventory of Focus vehicles to only 60 days in stock. The industry norm is 80-90 days in stock.

"May could be the best sales month for the Focus since last summer’s Ford Family Plan incentives," says George Pipas, manager, Sales Analysis. "The sale of small cars across the entire industry has been gaining momentum."

While fuel prices may be the main reason for the increase, small cars are also becoming trendy, says Robert Parker, Ford Marketing manager.

"That part of the segment is no longer just about entry-level for the sake of fuel," he says. "It now runs the gamut all the way up to domestic and imports that are very hip with prices that start in the mid-20s."

Much of the small car coolness factor may have to do with echo-boomers, the children of baby-boomers, some of whom are entering their teens and early 20s and shopping for their first cars.

"There is a whole group of young buyers out there who are interested in small or midsize cars and we think that trend is going to continue," says Pipas.

The renewed interest in small cars is not just confined to the younger generation. In Ann Arbor, Mich., attorney Tom Campbell recently bought a Focus for his daughter, a student at Michigan State University, and is now considering one for himself.

"I’d never thought about a Focus before, but after driving her’s I realized it’s a lot of car for a very reasonable price," Campbell says.

"Small cars are now on the shopping list of customers that have never considered them before," says Art Spinella, the president of CNW Marketing Research, a consulting firm in Bandon, Ore., that tracks auto industry trends.

"It’s the new reality, and people are finally realizing that gas prices are going to stay at approximately where they are with slight fluctuations," he says. "So they are looking for fuel efficiency in a variety of products and the Focus certainly offers a lot of content for the price."

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