By on May 18, 2010

Honda’s decision to delay a redesign of its Civic piqued some curiosity amongst our Best & Brightest, particularly Mark MacInnis who requested a five-year sales chart on the Civic and a few competitors. We’ve gone one better and worked up a 15-year graph of sales volume for some of the more popular compact sedans in the US. Of course a significant number of those pre-2001 Civics were hatchbacks, and Toyota counts its Matrix hatch as a Corolla, so the numbers are just a little skewed. Still, it gives a fairly good sense of where the major players stand in this important segment.

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37 Comments on “15 Years Of Compact Sedan Sales...”

  • avatar

    Nothing from Hyundai?

  • avatar

    Wondering about the Neon/Caliber and Mazda Protégé/3, as well.

    • 0 avatar

      Production numbers as compiled by our own Michael Karesh provided to Allpar:

      1995: 546,000 (model year started in January 1994)
      1996: 277,000
      1997: 265,000 (newer years — production unknown)


      US only sales (1st generation):
      1995 257,164
      1996 235,156
      1997 197,991
      1998 216,941


      Someone else will have to look up 2nd gen Neon and Caliber sales, I have to get back to work.

  • avatar

    Wow! Ford really erred when it decided to facelift the first-gen. U.S. Focus instead of replacing it with the all-new second gen. model that went on sale in Europe in 2004. Except for a slight increase during the 2008 gas price spike, the U.S. Focus has been dropping like a rock ever since 2000.

    • 0 avatar

      Ford just didn’t work on improving the Focus like they did on their trucks/SUVs or working on the Fusion. The Focus was one of the better D3 small cars on the market. Though whether it was made in the US is another story altogether.

  • avatar

    Truth be told — I know almost nothing about this segment.

    But three thoughts:

    1. I think TTAC often values branding over product. That being said, why did Ford decide to kill the Escort name? What made the Focus so bad that it dropped to second tier status? Is it a coincidence the two biggest declines occurred AFTER a branding change?

    2. At what point does this chart become meaningless because of bloat? The new corolla is huge. so is the jetta and the cruze. Not bashing anyone here: but a “compact” meant something very different 15 years ago.

    3. What would be interesting as well to see TOTAL compact sales (goes to my point 2) and see how the segment itself has done over time.

    • 0 avatar

      I think my first post answered your question about the Focus’ decline. The U.S. model was facelifted for 2007, but is still essentially the same car that has been on the market since 1999. An all-new Focus went on sale in Europe during 2004, but we didn’t get that one. Ford has allowed the Focus to grow old and stale while investing its resources in other products. During this time the Civic, Corolla, Sentra and Jetta have all been completely redesigned at least once. Chevy is about to launch its second all-new compact since the Cavalier.

      The Jetta’s sales stats are also puzzling. I owned a 2003 Jetta GLS and a 2006 Jetta TDI. The current A5 model is a nicer, better built car than the previous A4. Curiously, the new model has never sold as well as the old one. Just a hunch, but VW had a lot of quality and reliability issues with the early A4s, and the current model may be suffering as a result of its predecessor’s bad reputation.

    • 0 avatar

      Bad news Joe, VW/Audi still suffer serious reliability issues. The 2.0T engine, which powers a significant part of their high-volume lineup (upgraded Jetta, GTI, Passat, Tiguan, A3, A4) is a bit of a dud if you look at all the issues that exist with it, in much the same way that their 1.8t engine of the previous generation was a reliability disaster. Cars in this day in age should not suffer engine issues. Period. The only thing which has markedly improved is better interior quality (not materials, as in stuff not breaking) and electrical issues. When you are fighting the competition tooth and nail for their dollar AND you cost more AND you are more unrealiable, its a hard sell. I wanted to buy a 2006 2.0T but a little bit of research revealed that the engine is problematic and the DSG is an expensive repair bill in the offing. That is okay for a 80,000 exotic, but not for a 20,000 everyday driver.

      Which is why I no longer drive a Jetta and now drive a Mazda 3, as much as I miss the Jetta. Solid VW engines? The horribly inefficient 2.5 5-cylinder is good, if you want a Jetta or Golf.

    • 0 avatar

      I never had any reliability issues with the 2.0 engine in my 2003 Jetta or with the 1.9 TDI in my 2006 Jetta. The DSG in the ’06 TDI was also flawless. Of course I never skipped any of the scheduled maintenance and I didn’t keep either of these cars past 100,000 miles. Perhaps I was just lucky because I have heard horror stories from other VW owners.

      I have read VW is doing a lot of cost cutting on the next generation Jetta in order get their production costs more in line with competition. If this is the case, the current A5 Jetta may turn out to be the best one ever.

    • 0 avatar

      The VW 1.8T engine can fail in very expensive ways even on a low-mileage, well-maintained car, as I found out when the water pump impeller failed on mine a month after the last payment on my loan. I still love the car, but now I understand the Mk IV’s bad reputation. It was one of the best-looking compacts out there, which explains the sales jump early in its run. The Mk V didn’t have the good looks to overcome the reliability reputation.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree about the styling being a big factor. The Mk4 Jetta’s styling was compared favorably to the 3 series BMW at the time, and I still think it and the accompanying B5 Passat designs look pretty good.

      And don’t forget that the New Beetle was, well, new, at the time, and pulled lots of people into the showroom who drove home in new sedans. By the time the A5 Jetta (ca)roll(a)ed out, the NB was old hat, and the Jetta styling was distinctly me-too-ish.

      And of course the problems VW had at the time didn’t help owner loyalty, as y’all have noted.

    • 0 avatar

      Being the recall queen for the first two or three years of production didn’t help the Focus’ reputation any. The most recalls in history IIRC. More than GM’s Xs or the Fairmont

  • avatar

    I know the Elantra/Spectra twins don’t have as long a history but I suspect they have a good sales trajectory and have taken much from those listed here.

  • avatar

    The absence of Hyundai/Kia is glaring…it would be interesting to see the relative progression of their sales in this market. Otherwise, since 2003, it appears to be the “Civic/Corolla” show. Nothing else even comes close. And the Focus’s nosedive after 2000 is intriguing.

  • avatar

    Yeah, where’s Hyundai?

    @ EChid: OK, so if I am considering the VW 2.0T powerplant in the Audi A5, I should back away now?

    • 0 avatar

      If Joe is right, the 2.0T is a lot better now. Still this thing had problems with the cam follower and I can’t even remember what. It was silly stuff, stuff that made me thing about it carefully and turn away. I don’t particularly like my car, and I love VWs, but in this day in age, an engine requiring such careful care and mechanical expertise can never be called a great engine, as VW fans like to think. I come from a family of Japanese cars, mostly Hondas. I had a brief flirtation in highschool with a TDI Jetta that I loved dearly (2001), but I only had it for 50,000kms and those engines are pretty good. Overall, if you look at consumers reports…VW/Audi still shows pretty badly. Thank goodness the electrical woes appear to be behind them.

  • avatar

    The Focus dropped off because the first two years saw catastrophic teething problems. By 2000, the Escort was probably the best Detroit compact and could be reasonably compared to the Corolla and Civic.

    The Focus was even better than the Escort: so much so that it beat the Japanese at their own game (and honestly, the Civic and Corolla of that era weren’t good performers). Both the buff books and Consumer Reports went gaga over it. And then the recalls started, and didn’t seem to stop (fourteen in a year; you think Toyota has problems?) and the buzz was that the car, good as it was, wasn’t built right.

    It got better, but the bloom was off the rose by that point. The Japanese more or less got their act together and Honda’s 2005 Civic was more or less as good a car as the Focus, and the Corolla/Matrix weren’t far behind.

    Other interesting points:
    * Aveo, Fit and Echo/Yaris sales probably took a chunk out of their bigger brethren’s hide. Generally, the B-Segment cars make better use of their interior space and come in much cheaper than the compacts.
    * There are a few missing models, here (Protege/3, which always sold very well in Canada, the Sephia/Spectra/Elantra, the Neon/PT/Calibre). I can see excluding the Aerio/SX-4 and Optra/Lacetti/Nubira/Forenza, considering how much they (didn’t) sell.
    * Are we stickiing with sedans, or would hatch-only compacts like the Calibre and PT count?

    • 0 avatar

      Another question: are you counting Sunfire/Pursuit/G5 and Vibe sales anywhere?

    • 0 avatar

      The Focus did indeed get better: I own a 2005 ZXW wagon with 101000 miles on it. Still runs like new, and it’s been in the shop exactly twice for unscheduled repairs. And unlike the VW it replaced, the only way to run up a $5000 repair bill in a Focus is to drive to work after draining out all the oil and coolant.

      That said, the Focus did indeed suffer a great deal of neglect in the American market. I hope the next-generation car due here in 2011 corrects that. I’ve given up on there being a wagon on the lot for me, but the C-max is a tempting alternative.

    • 0 avatar

      The Focus suffered from more than just teething problems. About the time Ford should have been working on the next generation model was just about the time the Explorer rollover fiasco got going. To say that then CEO Jacques Nasser was distracted would be an understatement. Combined with the fact that the exponentially more profitable big SUV craze was in full swing, it’s no wonder the Focus got ignored into oblivian.

      That would be an most interesting graph: all Ford model sales during the time the 1st gen Focus was in production. As Focus sales fell, I would imagine there was a corresponding increase in Ford SUV sales (minus the Explorer, of course).

      While I still say they were never built that well, the best Focus was the 2004 with the 2.3L PZEV engine. For a mere $100, you got a bargain-basement hotrod. Ford could have capitalized on that with the next gen Focus, but instead just made minor changes to the grill and interior of the old Focus (while also decontenting and deleting the cheap, fast PZEV) for the next three years. They tried to make up for it by playing the rebate shell game to unload them. As can be seen, it didn’t work.

    • 0 avatar

      Well put. This graph really exposes how badly Ford screwed things up. They had an explosive hit from the start that they let fall apart. The recalls are one thing. The widespread problems that were not recalled where what really flipped my lid (bad fuel pumps, faulty ignition switches, etc). I can’t help but feel hesitant about placing any bets on the Fiesta as Jalopnik has.

      I love Mazdas. My 07 MX-5 has been super reliable. Unfortunately, I am forced to look elsewhere to meet my needs. I am tempted to take a chance on a TDI Sportwagen. These stories of VW woes are very worrisome.

  • avatar

    The omissions in this graph are duly noted, but I can only plug six data sets at a time into the program I’m currently using. A second graph containing the requested models will be forthcoming after I cover a bit more of today’s news.

  • avatar

    Interesting choice of numbers for the Y axis. Does not look linear or logarithmic.


  • avatar
    Brian E

    It would be interesting to track the Saturn SL/Ion/Astra as well just to show how much GM screwed up in the small car market.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    OK…so, the CIVIC was gaining market share and total volume each year from 05 to 08 with their new model…then the bottom dropped outta the world. The existing Civic is cleaning Corolla’s clock. Then why wouldn’t you EXTEND its life to give the next gen a thorough going ensure quality, etc.etc.

    Thanks, EN!….I look for Honda, when the next gen is out, to outsell the Corolla and gain market share….but to be fair, the various permutations of Scion cars should be included in the Toyota amounts.

  • avatar

    Issues with the 2.0T were generally with the 1st generation than ran until 2008 when it was replaced by a significantly updated version running a timing chain instead of a belt, amongst other significant improvements.

    So yes, the I would be leery of the first gen 2.0T, but the current one used in the 2009+ A4/A5/GTI/A3/Tiguan/etc. is significantly improved and MUCH more reliable.

  • avatar

    Ahh, VW cars, a true love/hate relationship for me. Mostly hate. I would never own one out of warranty since they are mega money pits out of said warranty and huge time wasters in said warranty. In my experience, VW owners love their cars so much they are willing to put up with major component failures for the joy of driving their cars. They also have a habit of not admitting they happened….

    For these reasons, VW will always be a small player in our market which is very much reliability driven due to the large mileages people put on cars here. Go to Europe and see what it costs to drive and you will see who there are so many low km cars around!

    The present model Civic sells like gangbusters and it is still, in my opinion anyway, better than anything else it competes with. Recently I test drove a 2010 Corolla LE with the keyless toy and it was not nearly as satisfying to drive as the Civic we ended up buying and a goodly bit more money too. In today’s market, the Civic’s tooling is paid for and every car they make is money in the bank. They can also afford to cut prices on them, which is exactly what they have been doing up here in Commieland.

    When the economy picks up, look for a quick intro of the new Civic. For the time being, Honda will profitably churn them out until the demand starts to wane. Then they will build a cra*pload of them, flog them at a discount and then intro their new Civic.

    • 0 avatar

      Sad but true. My last VW was a 2003 Passat 4Motion GLX wagon. Fantastic car when it wasn’t in the shop. I was blessed with a great independent mechanic who kept it running until the rear differential started to go…

      $5000 is what it would have cost to replace it with a new part, and that was in 2005. I sadly said goodbye to the car at that point.

      Every now and then a Jetta TDI Sportwagon tempts me, until I look at back on the maintenance costs of the old B5 wagon. I won’t gamble like that again.

    • 0 avatar

      So, A GTI is truly a poor man’s Ferrari?

  • avatar

    I hadn’t realized that the Cobalt was such a major failure. It never appealed to me, but I thought I had heard (with a bit of disbelief) that it was actually selling fairly well. This chart makes it pretty clear that it never managed to gain any traction in the market at all over the craptastic Cavalier that it looked all-too-much like.

    I am curious to see the Mazda3 on this chart… in particular, to see if the recent evil grin front-end redesign has had a negative affect on their sales. I recently decided to buy a sub-$20k car for commuting and wanted to like the Mazda3. It was a horrible dealer experience that pushed my wife and I to the nearby VW dealership. To put things in perspective, we’re very pleased with our Mazda5 and we still lament selling our old Protege5 rollerskate. I was even willing to overlook the front end redesign.

    We ended up with a base 5-speed manual Golf 2-door that appears to be very refined and quiet with incredible stock front seats that remind me of the Recaros in my old Jetta GLI 16v from many eons ago. In terms of electrical gremlins, one odd problem is that the courtesy lights don’t come on when the door is open (appointment to get it fixed is set for later this week). This seems like the kind of oversight one simply would never see on a Civic and one I wouldn’t expect in a German-built Golf, either.

    • 0 avatar

      Cobalt, like the Cavalier before it and the Cruze to follow) caters to rental companies to artificially boost sales. Malibu, Impala, Equinox, every Pontiac outside of the G8, most Buicks?

      Rental fodder.

      “ford and General Motors, with 37.6 percent and 33.3 percent market share respectively”

    • 0 avatar

      It shows that GM has absolutely no credibility trying to flog the Cobalt [or any of their other small cars : Astra anyone?] as a “premium” offering.

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