CHICAGO (CBS) – As Chicago flutters with the highest gas prices in the nation, it is no wonder Hybrids will be the buzz at this year’s Chicago Auto Show.

The economy is slowly turning around and over the last two years car sales have been on the rise but consumers tastes have changed.

The common pain at the pump seems to be driving consumer demand in a big way toward smaller cars and hybrids, according to industry executives at The Chicago Auto Show.

For example, sales of Toyota’s hybrid Prius jumped 25% last month, while BMW’s Mini cooper registered a 22% gain. The especially impressive Nissan Versa reported a 47% increase in sales. The common factor in all these cars, they all boast significant fuel efficiency.

“It’s a great road car (Prius) and it’s got a large back seat and seats three comfortably,” said Bob Carter, Toyota Division group vice president and general manager. “It’s (fuel efficiency) become a number one buying consideration for many consumers out there.”

Carmakers struggle with marketing these cars with good mileage and a reasonable price alone because consumers still look for the amenities. That is why these new batch of cars are being designed with more sophisticated and stylish interiors, and roomier, more versatile back seats to accommodate a broader range of drivers.

In the past, room has been an issue for these types of cars but now designers take on the task of making these small cars more comfortable for the taller, bigger crowd.

After a 28 year absence from the U.S. market, Fiat is returning this year with big hopes for the small car sector with its redesigned 500.

“Very elegant, very simplistic in design,” according to Jiyan Cadiz, Product Communications Manager with Chrysler, “We have blue tooth easy to use Tom Tom navigation.”

In these tough economic times Fiat’s designers are targeting consumers who look for economy but not at the expense of style.

Why does this car make sense for American consumers right now?

“We see someone who wants a 500, appreciates Italian Style, (and) appreciates a design they want to stand out,” Cadiz said.

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