The “family sedan” may not be very exciting, but without midsized sales auto makers would be in a pickle. Ponder this: the five best-selling midsized sedans in America accounted for 1.3 million of the 12.8 million vehicles sold in 2011. With numbers like that, it’s important to get your mass-market people mover right. This means competitive fuel economy, a low base price and swipe as much tech from your luxury brand as possible. Either that or just wear a Nissan badge on the front. Say what? The last generation Altima was the second best-selling car despite being long in the tooth and filled with Chrysler quality plastics. That made me ask an important question: Is the fifth-generation Altima any good, or is it selling well (now in third place thanks to the new Accord and Nissan’s model change over) just because it has a Nissan logo on the front?
Ever since the ill-fated Contour experiment, Ford has maintained a strict separation in its global midsized offerings: Fusion for the Americas and Mondeo for Europe (let’s ignore, for the moment, Australia’s Falcon as the doomed atavism it is). But under the global “One Ford” strategy, a fusion (ahem) of The Blue Oval’s midsized offerings was inevitable, and Ford has signaled for some time that the Fusion and Mondeo are on the verge of becoming one. And here, courtesy of the autoforum.cz, is the first leaked image of Ford’s unified, world-wide midsized contender: though the Fusion and Mondeo names will continue to be used in their respective markets, this car will carry both badges. But are we looking at a revolution in the oft-troubled “world car” game, or a repeat of the Contour’s compromises? Only time will tell…
We had midsized madness last month, as the Altima came within 500 units of unseating the mighty Camry and Sonata came within 500 units of sending the Accord tumbling further down the chart. Of the top ten best-sellers in the D-segment, only half beat their year-ago numbers, including Altima, Fusion, Impala, 200 and Optima. And though the YTD chart, which you can find in the gallery below, reflects the monthly sales order quite faithfully, it’s getting tighter… especially among the major players. Between the Malibu (171,266) and the Camry (229,521) there are six models in a 58,255-unit pack, and in September the Sonata pulled ahead of Malibu to snag fifth place. As we enter the fourth quarter, the competition is heating up…
Well, it’s that time again TTAC fans: the Midsized wars roll on with Camry retaking the top spot to extend its advantage in YTD sales. Altima continued its consistent year with a second place showing, and improving over its August 2010 number better than any nameplate besides… the Chrysler 200? Yes, Chrysler’s updated Sebring stopgap outsold the freshly-chic Optima on the month, and passed it in YTD sales. Meanwhile, the Hyundai Sonata may still have been 10k off the Camry’s pace, but its August volume was a mere 37 units from tying Mazda6′s YTD volume (through August). All in all though, this wasn’t an incredible month for midsizers, as half of the best-selling nameplates failed to improve on their year-over-year numbers. But what this segment lacks in volume growth it makes up for in drama, as a falling Accord runs the very real risk of being passed by Malibu and Sonata. Camry may be back in control, but the fight for the rest of the podium is as tight as ever.
Most driving enthusiasts have written off the entire Camry line as the poster child for dull driving appliances. But those who overcame their prejudices and took the 2007-2011 Camry SE for a spin discovered surprisingly firm suspension tuning and, with the V6, a smooth, powerful engine. The most courageous even tried to spread the word. Encountering an anti-Camry diatribe, they’d respond, “But what about the SE?” For 2012 there’s a new Camry. An earlier review covered the overall changes and specifically the non-sport, non-hybrid variants. And the SE?
The year: 1992. The rental car: the then-new third-generation Toyota Camry. My father was surprised how much the car drove like his Lexus LS 400, it was so smooth and quiet. While enthusiasts might deride the Camry as an appliance, it had this, and for the last two decades has served as the midsize sedan segment’s benchmark for refinement. Despite dull handling and an interior that grew cheaper with each redesign, sales increased, to the point that the Camry has been the best-selling car in the U.S. for 13 of the last 14 years.
But with competitors more stylish, more powerful, better-finished, and even poised to pass the Camry in refinement, the Camry increasingly trades on past accolades, incentives, and a reputation for reliability. Consequently, younger drivers go elsewhere, and the average buyer has hit the big 6-0. Many have bought their last car. To maintain its leadership, the Camry must improve. With the 2012 redesign, does it? (This review covers the regular Camry. The SE and Hybrid will be evaluated separately.)
With signs of change appearing in the midsized segment, I thought we would look at our archived sales results for the “Big Six” sedan nameplates in hopes of some historic context. And here it is: competitive convergence is turning what used to be Toyota and Honda’s wading pool into a bloody knife fight.
A year ago I put together a chart comparing the first-half performance of America’s “big six” most popular midsized sedans. Then, the graph seemed to show promising growth and a tightening segment. Now we seem to be looking at an up-and-down but ultimately more stagnant market… and a segment that is still battling it out in some of the closest competition in recent memory. But this chart alone doesn’t tell the whole story… hit the jump for the same chart, only with sales plotted cumulatively by month.
Last week we discussed a rumor that suggested the new 2013 Malibu’s rear legroom might be compromised as a result of its redesign, and in the original post I included the official manufacturer numbers for rear legroom in the “big six” midsize sedans. This led to an interesting discussion in our comments section, and the comparison apparently caught the attention of at least one boss of a global automaker’s US operations. This exec (who has admitted to being a daily TTAC reader), wrote in to point out that there are two different SAE standards for measuring rear legroom, the L33 “Effective legroom” test, in which the front seat is placed at the appropriate distance for a driver in the 95 percentile of height, and the L34 “Maximum driver legroom” test, in which the front seat is placed all the way before measuring. As a result of our conversation, I thought I’d share a comparison of the six best-selling D-segment sedans using a different (and hopefully less-confusing) metric: combined legroom. You can move the seat, but you can’t run away from this metric…
When March sales come out tomorrow, the Chevrolet Malibu will likely find itself in a tough position again. Last month the car that was once hailed as Chevy’s Lutzian turning point had fallen to fifth place in the midsized segment, having sold only slightly better than the Impala which has never been hailed as anything other than a large, inexpensive and unsexy sedan. But Chevy has learned from Ford that the right amount of mid-cycle styling freshening can go a long way: the Fusion never quite lived up to its hype until an update that was more than just a facelift improved its aesthetics, sending it soaring to the number two sales spot in the segment. Chevy is clearly hoping that a fresh look, featuring Camaro-style taillights (a move that echoes the new Charger’s retro-taillamp graft from the Challenger) will juice up the ‘bu… and with no Impala replacement coming for at least a few years, most of Chevy’s midsized-segment chickens are in this retro-look basket.
Chrysler won’t officially confirm it, but the Detroit Free Press cites Chrysler dealers who say that the tarnished-to-death Sebring nameplate will be replaced with the name “Nassau,” when Chrysler brings out a Fiat-facelifted version of the midsized sedan later this year. The Nassau name first entered Mopar history with the 1955 Windsor Nassau, a a two-door coupe advertised as having “the 100 million dollar look.” After a mere two model years as the Windsor Coupe nameplate, the Nassau name lay dormant for decades before returning as a 2000 styling buck for the Chrysler 300, and again as a midsized sedan/wagon concept in 2007.
The Cadillac XTS Platinum Concept, which debuts today at the NAIAS, is a look at the new Cadillac flagship which goes into production in early 2012. The XTS’s brief is to replace the moribund DTS and STS sedans, a task that Cadillac desperately needs done properly if it wants to be taken seriously as a luxury competitor. So why is the XTS concept little more than a glorified Buick LaCrosse?