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Stealing a great idea: Small, foreign cars disguised as domestic models

Despite enjoying widespread popularity in this day and age, smaller cars haven't always been looked at as a reasonable or even attractive option for new car buyers. It wasn't too long ago in the '90s and '00s that seemingly every driveway in your neighborhood had a huge SUV or minivan. Even in the '60s and '70s, the bigger the boat that you drove, the more street cred you earned. Today, however, even companies like Buick, which is notorious for giving consumers oversized and overstretched sets of wheels, have thrown their hat into the subcompact ring.

Smaller cars are hardly a new thing, and even back in Detroit's golden days, American manufacturers took a whack at producing subcompacts for what was then a niche market.

Although the car was technically a Mitsubishi, the 1971 Dodge Colt was one of the Motor City's more successful attempts at mass-producing a quality subcompact. The car was a complete rebadge of the Mitsubishi Colt Galant, which was a huge seller overseas. When Chrysler wanted to test out the market, they made a deal with Mitsubishi to sell the Colt as a Dodge stateside with pretty solid sales success.

Today it is common practice for a company to rebrand a model with minimal aesthetic modifications, like the Suzuki Grand Vitara, which at one point was sold under three different brands at once. Back then, however, Dodge was ahead of the times and took advantage of a good opportunity to sell what is now considered one of the better small cars made by an American badge.

GM has perhaps taken the most advantage of relationships with foreign automakers to sell small cars from their dealer's lots. The much maligned Geo brand was entirely made up of small cars that were built by other manufacturers. The Prizm is probably the most embarrassing example, as the car was not only identical to the extremely popular Toyota Corolla, it directly competed with the Chevy Cavalier in showrooms, cannibalizing GM's own subcompact efforts.

It seems that foreign carmakers have always had greater success making compact cars than American brands, who have, on the flipside, long been the leaders when it comes to trucks and SUVs. Do you think Detroit has ever built a small car that's superior to foreign offerings? Leave your comments below:

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