The streak began in 2002 and remains unbroken. Yes, 2002, which began with the Patriots winning the Super Bowl and ended after George W. Bush’s GOP was strengthened during the first mid-term elections of his presidency.
The Toyota Camry was America’s best-selling car. And the Camry has topped the best-selling cars leaderboard every year since.
In 2015, the Camry’s lead over the second-ranked car grew to 66,000 units from 40,000 in 2014. As U.S. passenger car volume declined in a record-setting year for the auto industry, the Toyota Camry’s sales did not. As midsize car sales slid 2 percent, U.S. Camry volume increased to the highest level seen of America’s most popular car in seven years.
Threats to the Camry’s supremacy in 2016? They stand shoulder to shoulder with the Camry inside Toyota’s own showrooms.
Not since 2009, before the Corolla forged ahead exclusively as a sedan, had Toyota’s compact slotted in behind the Camry on America’s best-selling cars list. But as compact cars gained a modest measure of strength in 2015, the Corolla generated 363,332, tops in its class for a second consecutive year.
Low fuel prices don’t help compacts if prospective buyers are also considering a slight payment increase to buy or lease an intermediate car instead, but compact car popularity is potentially enhanced by a declining subcompact car category.
Toyota’s prediction, however, doesn’t necessarily see the Corolla being the Camry’s primary challenger. Rather, the surging RAV4 is the vehicle likely to overtake the Camry in Toyota popularity in the next few years. This won’t necessarily impact the Camry’s standing among passenger cars, though RAV4 sales expansion will likely come partly at the Camry’s expense. U.S. RAV4 volume has more than doubled over the last four years. As recently as 2012, the Camry outsold the RAV4 by 233,000 units. That margin was cut in half by 2015.
Just look at Canada, where small SUV popularity has crushed the midsize sector. The Escape outsells the Fusion, Focus, Fiesta, Taurus, and C-Max combined, and the RAV4 has outsold the Camry in seven consecutive years. The year before the RAV4 took over from the Camry, Toyota’s midsize sedan volume was 20 percent stronger. Change happens fast.
In the meantime, the Camry hasn’t held on to its best-selling crown by pulling a rabbit out of the hat on New Year’s Eve.
Only in six of the last 24 months has the Camry failed to top the passenger car sales leaderboard, and only twice during that period has the Camry failed to hold the title in consecutive months. The Camry doesn’t squeak ahead with a blow-out sale over the holidays every year. Instead, it’s a surprise when a month ends and some other car has generated more showroom activity than the Camry.
MARGIN OF VICTORY
Over the course of the 14-year streak, Toyota averaged a 49,720-unit annual sales gap between the top-selling Camry and whatever the second-ranked car happened to be. In 2006 and 2009, that car was the Corolla, sales of which included its Matrix hatchback offshoot. (Camry sales used to include the Solara, as well, to be fair.) In 2011, the second-ranked car was the Nissan Altima, and the gap narrowed to less than 40,000 units.
Typically, however, the second-best-selling car in America is the Honda Accord, which ranked first in 2001 prior to the Camry’s streak began. In 2007, when Camry sales shot to a record-high 473,108 units, the margin of victory was at its largest: 80,877 sales. Never has the margin been smaller than in 2003, when the Accord trailed the Camry by only 15,546 units. 2015’s margin, 66,023 units between the Camry and Corolla, marks a three-year high.
According to passenger car sales tallies from Automotive News, 5.7 percent of the new cars sold in America in 2015 were Camrys.
That’s the highest level since 2009, when the Camry accounted for 6.3 percent of the new cars sold in the United States.
The Camry’s streak is impressive, but it isn’t mirrored in the passenger car arena north of the border. Honda Canada has made the Civic Canada’s best-selling car in each of the last 18 years.
Moreover, the Civic’s dominance in the car sector is greater in Canada than the Camry’s dominance in America. 9.1 percent of Canada’s car sales in 2015 belonged to the Civic. Indeed, the Civic was even able to unseat the all-conquering Ford F-Series as recently as 2008 to become Canada’s best-selling vehicle overall. The F-Series outsold the Civic by a 1.8 to 1 count in Canada in 2015; the Camry by 1.8 to 1 in the U.S.
Speaking of Honda, the Retail vs. Overall Sales argument has often landed in their favour. There are factors worth noting, of course. The Camry’s greater emphasis on fleet volume isn’t paired with a poor reliability reputation, nor has the Camry’s greater fleet volume brought about severe reductions in resale value. Thus, Toyota could claim that a good fleet sale isn’t the same as, for example, a Malibu fleet-sale bonanza in 2007.
Keep in mind, also, that Honda markets two bodystyles under the Accord nameplate. Honda doesn’t provide a breakdown of Accord sales by sedan and coupe, but current inventory suggests Honda may have sold approximately 43,000 Accord coupes in 2015 plus 313,000 Accord sedans. Even if Toyota is dependent on fleet – good or bad – for a quarter of all Camry sales and not a single Accord ever ended up in an airport rental lot, the Camry sedan would still have outsold the Accord sedan.
Does it matter? Not likely to two automakers which sell hundreds of thousands of profitable midsize cars every year in America. And the Camry’s numbers — no matter how impressive the totals, the duration of the streak, or its ability to fend off all manner of challengers — won’t change the fact that the Accord is still my favourite midsize car.