What you can buy at the car dealer is changing

Side view of black car

We've all heard about the chicken that keeps running as if nothing is wrong after losing its head to a farmer's ax.

That's exactly what's happening in today's U.S. auto marketplace.

What you see at new-car dealerships today isn't all that different from the selection 10 years ago.

But that's only because the headless chicken is still running around.

Over the next 10 years or so, it will be become harder to find the car you might want because dealer showrooms will be stuffed with vehicles that someone else wants or someone decides you should have.

Two key forces are already forging this inevitable trend: global demand and environmental compliance.

For almost 100 years, car makers tailored autos for American tastes and buying habits.

As the world's largest market for new vehicles, every foreign manufacturer with an eye on doing business in the United States had to design and engineer cars for Americans.

Japanese and Korean manufacturers quickly realized there wasn't much of a demand in the U.S. for the stripped-down econoboxes successful at home, and rapidly began cranking out ever bigger cars for us.

Today, China and India are the emerging new-car markets; eventually cars will be designed to their tastes, needs and budgets rather than ours.

It won't happen overnight, but it's coming.

One early example: The interior of Buick's LaCrosse was styled in the General Motors Chinese design studio.

Yes, GM has a Chinese design studio.

Government mandates in response to environmental concerns and an energy policy that is driving up oil prices will have an even greater initial impact on what vehicles we can buy.

Expect fewer and fewer V-8- and V-6-powered vehicles, replaced with hybrids and four-cylinder models.

It's far too soon to proclaim the death of big pickups and SUVs, but GM recently announced it will cut back on its truck and SUV production in favor of more small cars.

Ten years ago Fiat couldn't have hoped to sell its tiny 500 here, even with the access to Chrysler's dealer network it now enjoys.

In today's economy, however, the 500's small size and 101-horsepower, four-cylinder engine seem, well, reasonable.

I'm not saying your vehicle choices in the future will be fewer, but they certainly will be dramatically different.