By on May 9, 2011

The king is dead! After years of dominating the subcompact charts, the Nissan Versa was toppled from its top spot by not one but three upstart nameplates. Kia’s Soul, the Versa’s most consistent competition since it launched, has finally arrived as a legitimate slow-wave hit, topping 10k units and running away with the segment even as an updated model was announced at the NY Auto Show. Fiesta finally came into its own as well, racking up a thoroughly legit 9,147 sales over the month, and the lagging Fit staged something of a comeback with sales rising to 8,116 units. Versa’s fourth place finish was enough to handily beat Chevy’s aged Aveo, which itself nearly slipped below the equally aged Hyundai Accent for the month. Meanwhile, Yaris held off a solid-ish performance by Mazda2 and creamed its Scion xD cousin. With the Versa’s fall from grace (and the Cube’s non-impact) we have what may be an interesting peek at what the segment could look like when Nissan replaces its roomy Versa with its underwhelming Versa (Sunny) sedan. Of course, with new Soul, Aveo (Sonic), Accent and Rio models coming soon, there’s no telling where this segment could end up by the end of this year.

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40 Comments on “Sales: Subcompact Cars, April 2011...”


  • avatar
    John Horner

    I’m impressed that Ford has gone from not competing in this category to the number two sales slot in a relatively short period of time.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m impressed as well. But we all know it’s Silvy’s opinion that really counts, so I’ll hold my judgement until we hear from him.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      The biggest thing holding back Fiesta sales previously was that you could walk onto almost any Ford lot and buy a 2011 Focus with more space and more stuff for the same amount of money. Now that the 2011 Focuses have been more or less sold through at the majority of the lots there isn’t as much cannibalization of the Fiesta sales.

      At the same time, the Fiesta has been garnering a very nice reputation for itself, and we’ve been seeing buyers coming in who have ridden in a friend’s Fiesta and are now interested in one for themselves. The higher gas prices have certainly helped this segment as well.

      • 0 avatar
        SP

        I don’t want to knock the Fiesta, but these are numbers for the first half of the first year of the model. They have to be taken with a grain of salt.

        You know, when the retro Thunderbird came out in 2002, Neiman-Marcus sold 200 special edition Thunderbirds in 42 minutes. That’s an amazing annualized sales pace of 2,502,857 units! Wow! What a hit!

        ;)

      • 0 avatar
        SV

        The Fiesta has actually been on sale since last June or so, so we’re actually approaching its second year ;)

      • 0 avatar
        SP

        Seriously? They have been selling the Fiesta since June?

        If that is true, then that may be a bad sign in a sense … because I think I have seen all of 2 on the road, and even that, only in the last couple of months.

      • 0 avatar
        SV

        I’ve been following a Fiesta owners’ forum and the first members started getting their cars in June, so yeah. Sales have only started to take off in the last 4 months or so, though, which may be why you haven’t seen many of them yet (they’re not a very common sight here in Texas, either).

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Isn’t the success of the current Versa a function of its attractive pricing? I would think that the only way the new one could really cost sales would be if it takes on an upscale pricing model. The current one wasn’t critically acclaimed. If this segment sold on product, the top three woud be Fit; Mazda 2; Fiesta, in that order.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      There is a lot more variety in this segment that most would assume. What makes for the best product really depends on the priorities of the buyer.

      If the most passenger room for the least money is the deciding factor, the Versa best fits the bill. If instead you are willing to give up a little passenger space for clever packaging that allows room for a lot of stuff, and you want a somewhat sporty driving experience, the Fit tops the list. If you want a tiny car that feels like a more substantial car in refinement and offers the most tech and luxury features, the Fiesta is the best choice. If you are willing to give up space, refinement, and luxury features for a street legal go-kart, the Mazda2 should be your goal.

      As far as pricing levels go, it’s been reported that the Fiesta has the highest transaction price in this segment.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Odd. Fiesta has been advertised for $77 a month here, and for every one on the street there are 19 on the lot. There is an advertised $500 rebate on the Fiesta too, on cars with MSRP of $13,200. The Fiesta may have the longest option list, but the ones that do make it off San Diego lots are poverty-spec sedans. The Mazda 2 has 4 cubic feet MORE passenger room than the Fiesta, at least in hatch form.

        http://www.caranddriver.com/var/ezflow_site/storage/original/application/d9223803320daddaa3c83db50ee22645.pdf

        It’s pretty funny just how regional car tastes are. I’m not sure where people buy high priced domestically badged econoboxes, but it isn’t here or central Virginia. I think the Fiesta’s class success is down to the high number of Ford dealers and being hecho en Mexico. Japanese made Honda Fits cost Honda more than US made Civics, so they have no incentive to advertise or ship too aggressively. Nobody other than Ford and Nissan is really invested in actually selling this class of car.

      • 0 avatar
        NulloModo

        CJ –

        I haven’t seen a lease that low, but the Fiesta has a very strong residual value, and the way auto leases are advertised (before tax, tag, title, etc) with a little bit down and a low mileage band a dealer could advertise a doorbuster like that and probably still break even or come close to it on the car. Remember that advertised prices are to get your attention, they don’t really reflect true transaction prices for the majority of sales.

        The Fiesta has a base MSRP of $13,990 after you add in the destination fee. TrueCar is showing the lowest sale price around here to be about $13,500, which makes sense, $13,990 minus the $500 rebate. Just playing around different zip codes for the base Fiesta S sedan on TrueCar shows a ranger anywhere from $13,200 for Boston to $13,700 for Detroit. Interestingly enough, NYC, Los Angeles, and Burbank are closer to the Detroit end of the pricing spectrum with averages around $13,600 for that model.

        The site doesn’t breakdown by region what options people are going for, but around here it seems that SE Hatchbacks and SEL Sedans are the most popular – people want things like Sync, the nice wheels, the upgraded audio, leather, etc. Here is the link where I saw the higher transaction prices mentioned. In fact, here is another link mentioning the preference of most buyers for the higher end options:

        http://www.usatoday.com/money/autos/2011-04-26-ford-earnings-explorer.htm

        According to your link the Mazda2 actually has less cargo space behind the 2nd row than the Fiesta, which is true. The Mazda2 has slightly more interior volume, but that could easily be from seat materials and amount of padding, console design, etc. Looking at the figures of what they were able to cram in, the Fiesta has more space (though neither touches the Fit, which does have a lot of space for stuff as I mentioned).

        Is it that hard for you to admit that the Fiesta’s success just comes from it being one of the best cars in the segment? Some reviewers didn’t like that it lost some of its sporty feel in the US transition, but as we know most buyers would rather have quiet and comfortable over extremely sporty, and that seems to be paying off well. The big incentive that Ford has to sell the Fiesta is to get younger buyers into Ford showrooms for the first time. The perception amongst younger buyers had been that the domestic manufacturers weren’t making the cool cars, which is why it’s great that a large chunk of Fiesta buyers are first time owners of a Ford vehicle. It’s not only about making a great car and earning a profit selling it, it’s about changing perceptions with the next generation of car buyers and helping them to realize that a domestic carmaker can offer all of the quality, features, style, and ‘gotta have it’ elements that a Japanese or German automaker car.

  • avatar
    wulfgar

    And the Honda fan-boys come out once again. I like the Honda but it does not distinguish itself at all in this group (or any others). All seem to have their own niches – price, handling, size, fuel economy, styling, etc…Perhaps the consumer is buying on what they actually need/like/want rather than the fanboys who never seem to own any of these (but always have an opinion)?

  • avatar
    hifi

    Wonder what the transactional prices are. The Versa is considerably cheaper than the Kia, Ford or Honda. So if they aren’t selling as well, that says a lot about what a rubbish car the Versa is.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Kia + Kia (Rio + Soul) owns this market. I drove the base Soul today, and it provides incredible value for $14k. And that’s what Kia does best.

    As for the new Versa, I predict a net loss of market share when the new sedan comes in, without a hatchback buddy.

  • avatar
    Demetri

    Most of the cars on this list will either be redesigned or thoroughly updated within the next 6-18 months, so it will be interesting to see how this chart changes. The Versa, Accent, Rio, Yaris, and Aveo (In the form of the Sonic) will have redesigned models for ’12. The Mazda 2 will at least get a new drivetrain, and most likely a full redesign for ’13. The xD should be getting a redesign for ’13. The Fit will have to hold on until ’14, but there should be a mid-model-cycle refresh for ’12 that may bring a few small improvements. It’s also getting an EV model that may bolster sales if they can price it competitively.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      The people who buy this class or want to own it are not concerned with upgrades and redesign. They buy them because of the “cool” factor. We recently contributed to buying a car for my wife’s niece for a High School graduation present, and she wanted a Soul or a Fit. There was no Soul available so her parents got her a Fit. It’s “cool”. When our granddaughter turns 16 in two years we’ll buy her a new car in this class and we’ll buy her what she thinks is “cool” then.

  • avatar
    Banger

    WTF! Where on earth is the Cube in all this mess?

    Sure, I’m sad the Versa has been toppled, and nervous that Nissan is going to bumble around and screw up a winning formula there (unless the hatch replacement is a lot more exciting than the sedan, that is). But I’m most bummed that the Soul is getting all these sales and the superior packaging (IMHO) of the Cube is being largely ignored because Nissan won’t market it. Bad exchange rate and all that, I know. But they’re so busy tripping over themselves to flaunt the Juke segment-buster that they’re acting like the Cube doesn’t exist.

    • 0 avatar

      Added the Cube. Juke would be in between Accent and Rio at 3,280 sold in April. At 13,449, though, it’s doing better YTD than Aveo.

      • 0 avatar
        Banger

        Thanks, Ed! Cube still doing about what it has always done, I see. I fear the Cube’s days in North America are numbered because Nissan can’t justify (1) building it in Mexico and/or (2) asking an even higher MSRP for it, both of those options being necessary to beat the exchange rate conundrum they’re trapped in by building the Cube in Japan. Being essentially the same as the Versa under the skin, many shoppers already have a hard time accepting that the Cube with popular options will cost $17,000-$20,000. And once the dealer starts hawking the Versa on them as a better option (“Let me do you a favor and show you a Versa…” which is actually doing the dealer a huge favor by increasing their profit margin on the sale), there’s little hope for the Cube.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      From my totally non-scientific and non back-to-back comparisons of the Cube and Soul I’d say that the Soul has the Cube beat in cargo capacity and general roominess.

      As far as actual interior feel and quality goes though, the Cube has the Soul beat easily.

      Driving experiences are likely to change quite a bit with the new Soul powertrains coming, but I doubt the driving dynamics are a big selling point for either of these vehicles.

      • 0 avatar
        Banger

        The Soul has more cargo room behind the rear passenger seat, for sure, but in six months of Cube ownership so far (and plenty of shopping trips for baby goods in the meantime as we’re expecting a baby soon), we’ve not missed it. The better fit and finish plus the lower dashboard and easier lines of sight (especially out the rear of the car) sealed the deal for my wife. The Soul had more of a “cockpit” driving position, like a car, when compared to the Cube. Don’t get me wrong, it still sat up higher than just about any car and the forward visibility was still great, but the upswept windows and the higher dashboard in comparison to the Cube left my wife feeling like her visibility was better in the Cube.

        For my part, I was more comfortable with the Nissan 1.8-liter engine because it was evolved, by my understanding, from our old Sentra’s 1.8, which had been as solid as a rock. And for every CVT transmission nightmare story I read on the Cube forums from owners of ’09 Cubes, I read two similar stories on the Soul forums about the (“Shouldn’t-They-Have-The-Bugs-Worked-Out-Of-Such-Old-Technology-By-Now”) four-speed auto with which Kia saddled that poor car.

        It will be interesting when the new powertrains come to the Soul. If Nissan wanted to up the ante, the Juke’s 1.6 turbo would make for a ton of fun…and possibly even further improved fuel economy numbers, depending on how it’s tuned.

  • avatar
    BlueEr03

    Where is the Juke on the list? It fits in better here than it does on the small SUV list you had it on before.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    The Soul is pretty cool looking, and with the upgraded powertrain should continue to thrive. The Cube, as envelope-pushing as it may be, is just hideous.

    Surprised about the xD…..

  • avatar
    jaje

    Can we add the Mini Cooper and Clubman? They are subcompacts, are they not? I’m not sure the new 4 real door Mini qualifies.

  • avatar
    SV

    Nice to see the Fiesta doing so well (it topped 9k units last month too) and I’m also glad to see the dreary Versa get unseated by both the Fiesta and Soul, which are way more interesting cars.

    I wish the Mazda would do better, as it’s one of my favorites in this class (it’s gotten good enough reviews to make me question my preference for the Fiesta, for one thing) but until it gets a competitive powertrain and an actual marketing push I don’t see sales improving much.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      Mazda is stuck as a perpetual second tier brand in the US. They have never been able to move onto the consideration list for a large enough number of buyers.

      • 0 avatar
        Steve B

        Mazda has established itself as a niche player for enthusiasts on a budget, rather than being a mainstream player (now stop putting mom-doors on the back, dang-it! Can’t a dude get a nice sleek 2-door? I’d even deal with the smiley face for a Mazda3 coupe!). For better or worse, that’s the course they chose.

        Now… thing is, auto-junkies on here hate a top-dog with a passion. 5-10 years ago, GM was the bastion of all things evil. Then, once Toyota became #1, it became the target of irrational hate. Once Hyundai makes it to the top (and I believe they eventually will), they’ll become the despotic juggernaut of doom that’s just the nature of the beast – it’s why Wal-Mart, McDonalds, Apple (the smart-phone side anyway), and Microsoft garner such hate, but you rarely see it against Target, Carl’s Jr, Google (the android side of things), and Apple (the computer side of things). It’s in our blood as Americans to be suspect of the big guy.

      • 0 avatar
        SV

        That’s the main thing holding it back, but a 6-speed auto and Skyactiv engine – which would almost guarantee a 40mpg rating – can only help.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        It doesn’t seem like Mazda can sell any car in any class in any kind of numbers at the moment, but didn’t they sell a bunch of 1st generation Mazda 3s? I still see them everywhere, and I shopped for them twice while they were available new. The first time was February 2007. They were deep into their model cycle and the dealers had dozens of them on their lots, and yet they still wouldn’t talk price! They were the most arrogant salespeople I’ve encountered, and I average a couple cars a year. Email inquiries went unanswered by Mazda dealers all over Virginia and I never received a follow up call from lots I walked off. A year later I was looking for a Mazda 3 in California. This was really late in the model cycle, but the result was little better. A salesman actually returned a phone call, but they still wanted list price plus dealer fluff. Wound up with a private sale low mileage used one, which has since blown up. Anyway, my sense of the market was that sales were strong throughout the 1st generation, but I wasn’t watching sales numbers at the time and the new one might as well not exist.

      • 0 avatar
        SP

        The Mazda 3 had styling then.

  • avatar
    Steve B

    Two things stand out:

    1 – I think the Soul has soaked up a lot of sales that would have gone to the Element and xB in the past.
    2 – Most of the top performers have sedan models offered as well, and Americans love a notchback.
    3 – The Fit is no longer the standout it once was. A few years ago, it was a 38 snubnose revolver at a knife-fight. Now, everyone else has visited the gun shop.

    I’m curious what happens when the Accent appears and offers almost the same cargo space of the Fit, plenty of power to spare and unheard-of fuel economy. Cool stuff.

    And, rumor has it that the next Versa hatchback may have the Juke’s engine. If you’re going to have middling Fit fuel economy, you may as well have a small rocket under the hood!

  • avatar
    ozibuns

    Thanks for these monthly sales charts by segments Edward!

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    As I have said even before the Fiesta was on the market it will be the #1 seller in this segment I think perhaps as soon as this month now that the 2011 Focus’s are pretty much history. It will be the first month since the Fiesta has been on the market that its sales won’t be skewed by 2011 Focus sales and current gasoline prices can only boost the sales of the entire segment.

    When you combine a leading class product with the depth of Ford’s dealership network the vehicle can’t help but to be a segment top seller.

    For the same reasons the new Focus will also be #1 in the compact segment in the very near future.

    Congratulations Ford, job well done.

    • 0 avatar
      SP

      You should also account for the fact that the Fiesta’s sales are skewed up by its novelty. Wait a year and see how it goes.

      • 0 avatar
        mtymsi

        I’m basing my #1 Fiesta prediction on how well the car has sold in all the other markets it’s available in. Right now in the subcompact segment the Fiesta has no real competition as no one else offers upscale subcompact cars in the U.S. That will change in the near future but right now if you want a subcompact car in the U.S. with upscale options the Fiesta is the only choice.

        Also, I believe that by offering the upscale options on the Fiesta Ford is satisfying a market demand that existed but wasn’t fulfilled.

        Those reasons, gasoline prices and the number of Ford dealers nationwide will keep the Fiesta at the top of the subcompact segment. I do not believe novelty factors into many Fiesta purchases. Fiat 500′s, probably most purchases (which is why I think Fiat will have to lower the 500′s prices otherwise it will be a sales flop because at the current 500 price levels there is no value) but not Fiestas. Fiesta buyers I see as those that want a stylish, high MPG car that is a good value.

        Obviously just my opinion.

      • 0 avatar
        SV

        Considering the Fiesta’s been available for nearly a year now, I think most “novelty” sales have been accounted for. It should continue to sell well, but there’s every possibility the new Accent and Versa will sell even better.

      • 0 avatar
        mtymsi

        I don’t think either the new Accent or Versa will outsell the Fiesta simply because neither Nissan or Hyundai have anywhere near the dealer network Ford does. People want to buy cars from dealers that are relatively close to their home or work and in many parts of the country (outside of larger cities) Nissan & Hyundai don’t have dealerships.

        Everything else equal the size of the dealership network will determine the amount of sales.


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