America's Best-Selling Midsize Cars Are Exerting More Control In 2014

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain

With fewer than 1.7 million sales through the first eight months of 2014, U.S. sales of conventional midsize cars are down 0.2% in 2014. Just 0.2%? Out of context, it’s not a bad number, suggesting that midsize sales are basically level with the totals achieved a year ago. Yet in an overall new vehicle market that is on pace for its first 16 million unit sales year since 2007, sluggish sales in a massively important category is in fact a consequential result.

In 2013, when the new vehicle market grew 7.5% compared with calendar year 2012, Camry-class car sales in America were up less than 2%.

It’s easy to point the finger at the expansion of the small crossover market as the leading cause for the midsize segment’s difficulties. Toyota sold 44,043 Camrys and 35,614 RAV4s in August 2014, compared with 30,185 and 6502, respectively, in the RAV4’s rough August 2011. We’ve previously explored the Honda CR-V/Accord equation. Ford now sells nearly as many Escapes as Fusions – the Taurus outsold the Escape by more than two-to-one in 2002. Sales of all SUVs and crossovers are up 12% in 2014.

Finding explanations isn’t all that complicated. Yet there are cars that have broken free from the midsize sector’s stagnation this year, cars which have easily exceeded segment-wide expectations. Not coincidentally, five of the six key cars to have done so are the category’s five top sellers.

In other words, the portion of the midsize market controlled by the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, and Hyundai Sonata has grown from 65.8% during the first eight months of 2013 to 69.7% during the same period one year later. In August, this was even more obvious, as the five top sellers improved their market share to 72.1% from 68.9%.

Second tier midsize cars, on the other hand – Malibu, Optima, Passat, 200, Avenger – now control 25% of the category, well down from the 29.2% they achieved during the first two-thirds of 2013. This decline is due in part, but not at all exclusively, to Chrysler’s major model transition.

There is a one key exception among the less popular midsize cars. Mazda 6 sales have shot up 28% to 37,598 units in 2014, an 8234-unit increase over eight months. In 2013, 6 sales had climbed to a five-year high. Yet even if the 6’s current pace holds, Mazda is unlikely to sell more than 57,000 6s in 2014. They averaged nearly 67,000 annual sales between 2003 and 2007, when the 6 lineup was much more expansive.

Besides, 6 sales growth would have to be infinitely more impressive if it was to challenge the leaders in terms of volume. In a record-setting August for the Accord, Honda’s midsizer outsold the 6 by more than nine-to-one, and this was in the 6’s third-best sales month in more than two years.

Combined sales of the Camry, Accord, Altima, Fusion, and Sonata are up 6% this year. Clearly, America’s five favourite midsize cars are increasingly favoured.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

Timothy Cain
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  • Blackcayman Blackcayman on Sep 16, 2014

    The Mazda6 is the best looking...IMHO - Too bad they don't offer a true high line motor in their Grand Touring trim. It does have a portion of the Zoom Zoom handling, but I think they missed the mark on this too. Why not shoot a little higher towards BMW 3 Series handling...No one else is in this segment. Even if it was just a special Sport Trim, not the whole lineup. Mazdas and their road noise - its pervasive and it needs to be fixed. I drive a Mazda3 S Hatch 6M in GT trim. I love the way it drives, but it is noisier than it needs to be. When the new MazdaSpeed3 comes, maybe they'll do another Speed6 and fix the handling and noise and power issue??? Please!

  • Jimmyy Jimmyy on Sep 16, 2014

    Clearly, the top tier only contains 3 vehicles: 1) Camry 2) Accord 3) Altima Fusion and Hyundai are in the second tier. You guys in Detroit will do anything to make believe the Fusion is in the Toyota and Honda league. It is not.

    • See 4 previous
    • CJinSD CJinSD on Sep 17, 2014

      @ponchoman49 You would pick the Malibu, which says far more about you than it does about the Camry.

  • Pau65792686 I think there is a need for more sedans. Some people would rather drive a car over SUV’s or CUV’s. If Honda and Toyota can do it why not American brands. We need more affordable sedans.
  • Tassos Obsolete relic is NOT a used car.It might have attracted some buyers in ITS DAY, 1985, 40 years ago, but NOT today, unless you are a damned fool.
  • Stan Reither Jr. Part throttle efficiency was mentioned earlier in a postThis type of reciprocating engine opens the door to achieve(slightly) variable stroke which would provide variable mechanical compression ratio adjustments for high vacuum (light load) or boost(power) conditions IMO
  • Joe65688619 Keep in mind some of these suppliers are not just supplying parts, but assembled components (easy example is transmissions). But there are far more, and the more they are electronically connected and integrated with rest of the platform the more complex to design, engineer, and manufacture. Most contract manufacturers don't make a lot of money in the design and engineering space because their customers to that. Commodity components can be sourced anywhere, but there are only a handful of contract manufacturers (usually diversified companies that build all kinds of stuff for other brands) can engineer and build the more complex components, especially with electronics. Every single new car I've purchased in the last few years has had some sort of electronic component issue: Infinti (battery drain caused by software bug and poorly grounded wires), Acura (radio hiss, pops, burps, dash and infotainment screens occasionally throw errors and the ignition must be killed to reboot them, voice nav, whether using the car's system or CarPlay can't seem to make up its mind as to which speakers to use and how loud, even using the same app on the same trip - I almost jumped in my seat once), GMC drivetrain EMF causing a whine in the speakers that even when "off" that phased with engine RPM), Nissan (didn't have issues until 120K miles, but occassionally blew fuses for interior components - likely not a manufacturing defect other than a short developed somewhere, but on a high-mileage car that was mechanically sound was too expensive to fix (a lot of trial and error and tracing connections = labor costs). What I suspect will happen is that only the largest commodity suppliers that can really leverage their supply chain will remain, and for the more complex components (think bumper assemblies or the electronics for them supporting all kinds of sensors) will likley consolidate to a handful of manufacturers who may eventually specialize in what they produce. This is part of the reason why seemingly minor crashes cost so much - an auto brand does nst have the parts on hand to replace an integrated sensor , nor the expertice as they never built them, but bought them). And their suppliers, in attempt to cut costs, build them in way that is cheap to manufacture (not necessarily poorly bulit) but difficult to replace without swapping entire assemblies or units).I've love to see an article on repair costs and how those are impacting insurance rates. You almost need gap insurance now because of how quickly cars depreciate yet remain expensive to fix (orders more to originally build, in some cases). No way I would buy a CyberTruck - don't want one, but if I did, this would stop me. And it's not just EVs.
  • Joe65688619 I agree there should be more sedans, but recognize the trend. There's still a market for performance oriented-drivers. IMHO a low budget sedan will always be outsold by a low budget SUV. But a sports sedan, or a well executed mid-level sedan (the Accord and Camry) work. Smaller market for large sedans except I think for an older population. What I'm hoping to see is some consolidation across brands - the TLX for example is not selling well, but if it was offered only in the up-level configurations it would not be competing with it's Honda sibling. I know that makes the market smaller and niche, but that was the original purpose of the "luxury" brands - badge-engineering an existing platform at a relatively lower cost than a different car and sell it with a higher margin for buyers willing and able to pay for them. Also creates some "brand cachet." But smart buyers know that simple badging and slightly better interiors are usually not worth the cost. Put the innovative tech in the higher-end brands first, differentiate they drivetrain so it's "better" (the RDX sells well for Acura, same motor and tranmission, added turbo which makes a notable difference compared to the CRV). The sedan in many Western European countries is the "family car" as opposed to micro and compact crossovers (which still sell big, but can usually seat no more than a compact sedan).
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