DETROIT — Automakers are gearing up to make more compact cars this year. It’s another bet on a part of the car market that has thrived in 2011 as consumers fret about the economy and gas prices but still want a new set of wheels.

General Motors is adding Saturday shifts in the fourth quarter at an Ohio factory that makes the compact Cruze, two people briefed on the matter said Monday. Ford, Toyota and Hyundai also have scheduled overtime at compact-car plants.

That might seem chancy with consumer confidence at a two-year low. But the automakers are expecting sales of compacts to increase as nervous consumers go for lower sticker prices and better gas mileage to save money. Compacts sell for $16,000 and up, and can get around 40 mpg in highway driving.

The strategy might pay off. As anxious as consumers say they are about the future, a survey released Tuesday by the Conference Board showed that, compared with July, more of them plan to buy a car within six months.

As shoppers look at smaller cars, they’re finding that new compacts such as the Elantra, Cruze and Ford Focus are quiet, handle and ride well, and come with navigation systems, leather seats and all the bells and whistles that previously were available only in larger vehicles. And the Cruze, for instance, has a starting price of $16,525, about $3,700 less than the cheapest midsize Toyota Camry.

As a result, automakers sold nearly 1 million compacts through the end of July, up 12.8 percent from a year earlier. Cruze sales are up 74 percent over the car it replaced, the Chevrolet Cobalt. Elantra sales have risen 56 percent and the Nissan Sentra are up 33 percent. The Cruze, which GM introduced last year, was the top-selling car in the country in June.