By on January 12, 2017

2018 Toyota Camry – Image: Toyota“When you get into next year and you look at 2018, I believe with these three products
and the excitement they bring back to that segment, I don’t see it falling anymore.”

– Jack Hollis, Toyota Motor Sales USA’s VP of marketing

U.S. sales of midsize cars tumbled by more than 250,000 units in 2016 even as new vehicle volume rose to record highs. The rate of decline was sharper than the decline experienced by the car sector at large. Only Chevrolet, with the all-new Malibu, and Subaru, with the relatively low-volume Legacy, sold more midsize cars in 2016 than in 2015.

Fleet sales excluded, retail data manifests a worsening of results as the year wore on. According to J.D. Power’s PIN December Industry Health Report, midsize car market share fell below 10 percent for the first time ever.

But Toyota USA’s marketing chief, Jack Hollis, believes 2017 could mark the end of the midsize decline, and 2018 sales of midsize cars could even begin to increase.

Hollis credits, in advance, the arrival of the new Toyota Camry, which debuted earlier this week at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show, in addition to new iterations of top rivals.

A new version of the Honda Accord, America’s second-best-selling car, is due this year, with a new Nissan Altima following shortly thereafter, according to Automotive News.

“I believe with these three products and the excitement they bring back to that segment, I don’t see it falling anymore,” Hollis said in Detroit. Hollis predicts flat sales in 2017 and a slight improvement in 2018.

Sound crazy? As auto sales climbed to record levels in 2015, midsize cars slid 2 percent. As overall auto sales broke 2015’s record in 2016, midsize car volume plunged 11 percent.

Yet if any automaker has a grasp on the American midsize market, surely it would be Toyota, which, along with Honda, has dominated the segment for nearly two decades.

With a remarkable 60 percent of Camry buyers historically returning for another Camry, Toyota’s Hollis believes plenty of buyers will come back to the Camry; they won’t all be steered aside to crossover alternatives.

The Toyota brass, however, may not be in full agreement. One year ago, Toyota’s North American CEO, Jim Lentz, questioned how long the Camry would continue to be the brand’s best-selling product. The RAV4 then outsold the Camry in two of 2016’s final five months.

Now, Automotive News reports, Lentz believes the new products will only spur enough demand to stall the speed at which the midsize segment is sliding.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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39 Comments on “Midsize Sedan Lifewatch? Toyota Believes New Camry Ends Segment Decline — Or Not...”


  • avatar
    MrGreenMan

    It looks like a good effort. There is no Toyota dealer near me, or I would go look at one. Nobody ever sang “four cylinders – oh my!”. Do they still have hydraulic or rack-and-pinion steering, or have they gone to electric like everyone else and detached the driver from any useful winter feedback?

  • avatar
    duffman13

    I’m not going to say I buy it, but I look at it this way.

    Given the fact as well that you can get significantly better equipment in a mid-sizer than a compact CUV for the same or less money, there is definitely a value proposition that will sway a significant portion of buyers.

    Combine that with the fact that a multi-car family can still make an argument for having a CUV/SUV and a sedan, since in most cases one parent carts the kids/stuff, while the other only commutes themselves to and from work. Plus the improvement in gas mileage. I personally fall into this category.

    At this time I can’t think of a single mid-sizer that isn’t long in tooth. Add in the hype from new models and you’ll definitely see an increase in sales, or at least slowing/stopping the bleeding.

    Wild Card: I think mid-sizer’s biggest competition isn’t laterally from CUVs, but below from compacts (See: the new Civic). Aside from cabin width, which only really matters if you seat 3-across, the newest generation of compacts have livable backseats. They also offer levels of equipment and refinement that would have definitely required you to go up a size 10 years ago. Combined this with lower consumable costs and lower gas costs, compacts have definitely become a viable option over a mid-sizer nowadays, especially for a 2-car family where one member is only using it for commuting.

    • 0 avatar
      PenguinBoy

      “Combine that with the fact that a multi-car family can still make an argument for having a CUV/SUV and a sedan, since in most cases one parent carts the kids/stuff, while the other only commutes themselves to and from work.”

      True, except in this case the second car can be pretty much anything, it doesn’t have to be a sedan. Yet sales of coupes and convertibles are falling even more than those of sedans. It would appear that in many cases, the second “car” is another *UV, or a pickup truck.

      • 0 avatar

        “True, except in this case the second car can be pretty much anything, it doesn’t have to be a sedan. Yet sales of coupes and convertibles are falling even more than those of sedans. It would appear that in many cases, the second “car” is another *UV, or a pickup truck”

        This is me at the moment, mostly due to circumstances (having recently moved halfway across the country meant that keeping my RAV made more sense).

        But eventually, I’ll replace said RAV with a coupe. Yes, I realise that a sedan would be a more practical choice, but I already have a CUV, I don’t need two practical vehicles.

      • 0 avatar
        duffman13

        Coupes and convertibles lack the ‘practicality’ of a sedan. If I have to pick up the kid, noting that he’s still in a car seat, I’d rather default to something with rear doors.

        To be fair, I am a convertible owner too, but that is a 3rd vehicle for me. It’s not the most pleasant car to commute in; I save it for nice days in the spring and fall maybe once a week.

        I actually agree more with your truck premise. Plenty of people want them for a) manliness points, b) it can tow/haul stuff, and c) ‘murica. I was just pointing out for a 2-car family with a commuting parent, a sedan as the second vehicle makes a lot of sense.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      For most people, ~95 cu ft = ideal interior volume for a sedan, so sales will be distributed in a bell curve around that metric. Models that are now midsizers used to be clustered around that volume, but now compacts occupy that space. I agree 100% with this assessment.

      You look at Honda’s lineup for example, the Civic occupies the space where the Accord used to be, and the current Accord is really equivalent to something like what I would call an Avalon/Maxima.

      Our household is probably gonna move to the sedan/CUV or sedan/minivan combo for many of the same reasons…. for my money, something like the Camry V6 would be the pick, at least until kids can do booster seats. Then the real fun starts.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Well it still has a V6 and as Carl Spackler would say: “So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “Lentz believes the new products will only spur enough demand to stall the speed at which the midsize segment is sliding”

    This is the most likely scenario. Even if the new Camry is totally awesome, people still want CUVs.

    • 0 avatar
      quaquaqua

      Yeah, and they definitely want Toyota’s. The RAV4, which must be the most cross-shopped vehicle on the Camry’s lot, has had a huge sales growth lately. For the Camry to roar back I think that would require a dip in RAV4 sales, which I just don’t see happening.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      Hollis’s optimistic prediction helps the optimistic buzz around the new Camry release, and if he’s wrong, it costs him nothing. If I were in his Toyota marketing role, I’d say it too.

  • avatar

    A utility vehicle offers better versatility, and value for the money. We can easily all agree its a better all around vehicle.

    However there is still lots of room in the market for sedans, and Toyota has little choice but to offer a new mid size sedan (Camry). Will it set sales records probably not, will it protect Toyota’s position in the mid size sedan segment…absolutely.

    It would be foolish for Toyota to remain dormant in the segment with an “older” Camry. Its assembled in Kentucky, keeps a bunch of folks employed, fits well with the current “Made in America” mantra and will be raced at the Daytona 500 in a few weeks.

    Longer term Toyota is protecting their position in the mid size segment, and also if NAFTA is reopened. The best selling sedan in the US is assembled in the USA, and raced by the “good ole boys”…great optics.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      A CUV offers better versatility and the extra height is welcome in city traffic. However, a sedan tends to achieve significantly better fuel economy at actual highway speeds because it doesn’t have to punch as big a hole through the air.

    • 0 avatar
      baggins

      I dont agree it a better vehicle, depends on your needs. We already have a mini van for kid hauling, and an old minivan for stuff hauling. S I use a sedan for my hwy commute. Quieter, better mileage, more agile if I need to take evasive action as compared to a CUV.

      If you only have one car, then I agree a Rav4 has more utility than a Camry, as it can carry more cargo.

  • avatar
    319583076

    I like the new Camry look. 3.5L V6? They have my attention.

  • avatar
    nels0300

    I can’t wait for the first tests on these.

    I’m predicting best in class performance. The V6 is going to be a beast and get good mileage.

    Not that it matters, people would buy them anyways, and the haters are still going hate.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      agreed nels, the circa-’07 2gr is still relevant now. With dual port/DI injection, it will open a large can of whoop*ss on the segment both in terms of power and real world MPG (especially over the 2.0T motors). Perhaps a used one of these would make the perfect replacement for the trusty ES in a few years.

      • 0 avatar
        bts

        I thought the V6 is going to continue unchanged. The 2.5 engine though is now similar to the GM 2.5, unfortunately GM has seemed to stop using it.
        http://gmauthority.com/blog/gm/gm-engines/lcv/#tab-1

        • 0 avatar
          nels0300

          No, both the 4 and the 6 get dual port/DI injection.

          Toyota must’ve determined that they weren’t going to improve on the performance of the 2GR-FE with a turbo 2.0L.

          Toyota is doing it their own way.

          -No turbo 4 cylinder

          -No direct injection only engines that would be susceptible to carbon deposits

          -No CVT

          -No VCM on the V6. (lookin’ at you Honda)

          Win, win, win, win.

          • 0 avatar
            tonycd

            Agree, nels. It’s thoroughly Toyota to go with the oldest, most proven tech that will get the job done at a remotely competitive level. Love ’em or hate ’em, they are being true to their brand.

            And if you’re the type who keeps their car a long time, or a used car buyer who doesn’t want to go broke or sit on the roadside a la German iron, you’ve got to love ’em in that regard.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      With the 8 speed, I feel like this thing is going to punch a hole through the 13 second quarter mile barrier. There are mid grade pickup trucks deep in the 14s. We live in scary times.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Some of it will be gas prices. Some will want the new body style. Time will tell but I don’t see either Camry or Accord gaining any significant sales numbers over SUV/CUV’s anytime soon.

  • avatar
    2drsedanman

    I think some of the Camry success will also depend on what drive trains are available on the 2018 Accord debuting this fall. If Honda discontinues their V6 (which would be a shame), this may drive additional buyers to Toyota.

    The V6 in the Camry may turn out to be a sleeper, looking forward to some reviews.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    Sedans still have an advantage in fuel economy, which nobody really cares about in most parts of the country. SUVs are more “fashionable” and many people buy cars for this reason alone, though we aficionados don’t like to admit it. Sedans aren’t necessarily any more comfortable than SUVs though as someone said, they often get you more features for the money… partly due to their lower demand.

    As a single parent with a couple of kids, a wagon, minivan, or SUV body style just offers a lot more flexibility as my one do-it-all vehicle. My older mid-sized sedan-based wagon still suits my needs well. Though when it comes time to replace it, it appears that a CUV may be my only option. Taurus, Camry, Passat, Accord, and Mazda6 sales all used to include wagon variants which are now extinct. Are these counted in the historic comparison sales figures for the models? I assume they are, so “sedan” sales aren’t necessarily in decline as much as they appear. There are just fewer variants under those models which have been replaced by SUVs.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      steve, that depends partly on how soon you buy and how willing you are to go used. There are several recently discontinued cars that are pretty good fits. Some are called “CUVs” or “crossovers” but are really barely disguised hatchback sedans or station wagons: Venza, Crosstour, Prius V, Lincoln MkT. The Crosstour is attractively priced because of its unpopularity, and the Prius V because everybody thinks $2 gas is forever. And of course, there’s the straightforward TSX wagon too.

      • 0 avatar
        Sam Hell Jr

        I tried to put my sister in a Venza instead of the Outback she ended up with. Great powertrain, *very* kid-friendly back seat and cargo area, was a lot more car for the same money.

        The Crosstour I wanted to like, but it was just kind of … Off. Weird dynamics and ergonomics. Still preferable to me as a kid hauler than most CUVs.

        I wish there was a Prius V with the 2.5L hybrid rather than the 1.whatever. Awesome body style, just a bit too much mass for that variant of the HSD in my opinion.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          Also like the Venza but have heard numerous complaints from friends who have them about 1) poor gas mileage, 2) very expensive tires 3) very difficult to find winter tires that fit them 4) rear cargo area is smaller than the external size of the vehicle would suggest.

          • 0 avatar
            Sam Hell Jr

            I don’t doubt any of those, just didn’t see them as deal-breakers versus the Outback, which despite its virtues I find coarse and overpriced.

            I also think Toyota lacked interest in the car, based on how often the dealer tried to steer us toward a Highlander.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    I would love to see the data on midsizers 2016 for retail sales versus fleet sales.

    Completely get that not all fleet is bad, that really rental car fleet specifically is bad. G12 plated Fusions, Malibus, 200s, etc. etc. as well as the ye’ old company car doesn’t hurt as much as Hertz stacking up the Fusions, National stacking up the Altimas, and Avis stacking up the Malibus.

    But I would love to see the numbers. I suspect hidden in there the gains of some are even better than they appear, and the declines of others are far, far worse than the data shows.

    I have no doubt the Accord remains the reigning retail champion, even if Honda plays a little fast and loose on what “fleet sales” are.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam Hell Jr

      In the retail world, mid-sizers sell on good re-sale value, decent visibility, and a child-seat and/or adult human sized back seat. I don’t find it surprising that the Accord and Camry win. They are darned virtuous cars.

      I love everything about Accords except the busted blender I think they plug the brake pedal into, but the sales figures suggest that’s just my own bugaboo.

  • avatar
    pmirp1

    Feels like an old man trying to get back in shape to compete with those young new hunks. The new Camry may be better in every way, but I am afraid this is the age of SUVs. The wave is overwhelming no matter how good a swimmer you are. Sedans will never have the place they used to enjoy. Here in Atlanta yesterday I took my Jeep to get it washed in 70 degree weather, and all around me were SUVs, the few sedans looked so lonely and poor, even a pretty beige white Lexus LS that a Mexican looking dude was washing with sweat on his face. Still it was the black Chevy Tahoe looking thing next to him with after market wheels that a bro was polishing that garnered all the attention, leaving the LS to look poverty level. It is the age of SUVs.

  • avatar
    Sam Hell Jr

    I will get off this soapbox sometime next never: if there is one good thing about the trend toward teardrop profiles and SUVs, it is getting the market used to the convenience of a liftgate. Once you go hatch, you don’t go back.

    The few non-SUVs that turn heads anymore – the Model S, the A7 – are hatchbacks, and I eagerly await the downmarket movement of that trend (as well as, arguably, the upmarket movement, from the reasonably popular and pretty luxe B- and C-segment hatches).

    Relevant to this discussion because, overseas, the big car segment is all ’bout that five-door, and the new Camry roofline basically runs the length of the car anyway.

    If there is life after death for mid-size sedans, my $0.02 … Luxury fastback aping. C’mon, Toyota. You’re already granting my wish with torque converters and natural aspiration. Make it a hat trick.


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