If your neighbor tells you they’re thinking of buying or leasing a new midsize sedan, you wouldn’t be crazy to assume that they’ve likely visited the local Toyota, Honda, and Nissan dealers.
Yet the majority of U.S. midsize car buyers do not, in fact, choose the Camry, Accord, or Altima.
Diversity wins. The dominator isn’t all-conquering.
The Toyota Camry remains the best-selling car in America, and thus the best-selling car in its midsize/intermediate category. 2015 was the 14th consecutive year of U.S. passenger car sales leadership for the Camry.
Despite a modest 1-percent year-over-year decline through the first two months of 2016, the Camry has increased its share of the category from 17.9 percent in the first two months of 2015 – and 18.2 percent in calendar year 2015 – to 18.3 percent in January and February of 2016.
As Nissan switches over to an updated 2016 model, U.S. sales of the Altima declined 8 percent in the first two months of 2016, a loss of more than 4,000 sales. After averaging 247,500 annual Altima sales between 2004 and 2011, Nissan now sells more than 300,000 Altima sales every year, with 2015’s total down just 2,246 sales shy of 2014’s record 335,644 units.
The Honda Accord currently ranks third in the category, but it should have no difficulty securing second spot in the category by year’s end based on its current rate of growth. Accord volume is up 9-percent year-to-date and Accord volume has increased in six consecutive months.
It’s clear then that this is the meat of the batting order, three big bats surrounded by major league underachievers. Yet combined, the eight CamCorTima alternatives from Ford, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Kia, Chrysler, Subaru, Volkswagen, and Mazda do more damage at the plate, to continue the analogy.
48.3 percent of the new midsize cars sold in January and February were Camrys, Accords, and Altimas, up a full percentage point compared with 2015’s first two months (and calendar year 2015 but on par with 2014’s results.
This leaves nearly three-quarters of the cars in the category to pick up just over half the sales, no sterling achievement for the fellas hitting at the bottom of the order, but proof nevertheless that most Americans don’t want a Camry, Altima, or Accord.
The Chrysler 200’s previously disclosed losses are well-known and are largely to blame for the segment’s overall decline in early 2016 and the ability of the top three to increase their share. (200 aside, U.S. midsize car sales are up 3 percent, rather than down 3 percent.) U.S. sales of the Kia Optima are down 14 percent so far this year. Predictably, Volkswagen Passat volume tumbled 37 percent during the first two months of 2016. The least popular Mazda6 lost 30 percent of its January/February sales.
Meanwhile, U.S. sales of the Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonata, and Subaru Legacy are on the rise. The Malibu’s 53-percent increase in February is most notable.
With fewer competitors with which to tangle, there are dominant players in other categories that far exceed the Camry’s 18-percent market share figure. Dodge and Chrysler’s minivans combined to own 44 percent of America’s minivan market in the first two months of 2016. But they essentially have but four direct rivals. 36 percent of the full-size trucks sold in America are Ford F-Series pickups, but the F-Series has only five rivals from Ram, General Motors, Nissan, and Toyota. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class grabs four in ten flagship luxury car sales, but rivals hail only from Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Lexus, and Porsche. We wrote already this month about the Toyota Tacoma’s ownership of the midsize truck arena, but the Tacoma is one of only four trucks currently competing in the category.
The collective American car-buying public unwittingly consistently makes sure the obvious midsize choices don’t become automatic choices, thereby leaving enough market share for lower-tier players to make development a worthwhile endeavour. The biggest factor standing in the way of low-volume cars like the Mazda6, Volkswagen Passat, Subaru Legacy, and Chrysler 200 isn’t the dominance of the high-volume Toyotas, Nissans, and Hondas. At least not yet.
Rather, it’s the strength of small SUVs/crossovers – which now easily outsell midsize cars – that throws a wrench into the works. For every Mazda6, Passat, Legacy, and 200 sold so far this year, Mazda, Volkswagen, Subaru, and Jeep sold more than two CX-5s, Tiguans, Foresters, and Cherokees.
[Images: Toyota, Nissan, Honda]