TTAC Wants, America Doesn't: U.S. Full Size Car Sales Are Plunging
Only weeks after TTAC’s managing editor publicly declared his yearning for a V8-powered Dodge Charger, I was driving the same V6-powered Charger that got Mr. Stevenson’s motor running.
His response, the response of a young man whose lifestyle necessitates no firm requirements from his transportation device: I want this car.
My response, the response of a slightly more aged man whose lifestyle necessitates the frequent carriage of strollers, the frequent installation of a Diono Radian RXT, and the frequent responsibility of ferrying lanky individuals in the rear seat: Big family cars ain’t what they used to be.
Or, in comparison with their ancestors, are these full-size sedans infinitely better, let down only by modern LATCH requirements and comparisons with modern vehicles that make family friendliness their core mission?
Besides a rear seat which offers far less legroom than the Charger’s exterior dimensions suggest, a number of little things conspire to make the car less appetizing for those of us who’ve publicly manifested our fertility. The lower anchors are tucked away, as if to say, “Please don’t find us – we hope never to be touched by human hands.” The top tether anchor is so inordinately bulky that detaching the tether, sorely hindered as you’ll be by the headrest and rear window, is not a task for the uninitiated.
And yet, the experience of driving the Charger completely rearranged my viewpoint. Imperturbable ride quality, surprisingly quick steering, plenty of power even from this base V6 (though it does have 300 horsepower due to a boost from the Rallye package), and an overall sense of solidity and strength produce memories of Detroit’s successful big car era. Sure, there are a handful of chintzy bits – the wiper/signal stalk doesn’t belong in a $40K+ car; the shifter squeaks and squawks — but the Charger does not by any means feel cheap or unfinished.
Nevertheless, even aided by Hellcat hype, Charger sales are flat, year-over-year, and August volume plunged 18 percent. This isn’t out of the ordinary for a volume brand large car in 2015. Through the first eight months of 2015, the Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Impala, Chrysler 300, Ford Taurus, Hyundai Azera, Kia Cadenza, Nissan Maxima and Toyota Avalon are all selling less often than they were during the same period one year ago.
Child seat installation is far from the only reason large car buyers are turning away, if it’s even a reason for anybody but the Cains. But with midsize cars offering similar space for less money, entry-level premium cars providing more cachet, crossovers appealing to an ever broader cross-section of the market, and even crew cab pickup trucks attracting a large number of family car purchases, traditional large cars are bound to struggle.
U.S. sales of this nine-car group plunged by 63,182 units over the last eight months, a 17-percent decline that’s far worse than the overall passenger car sector’s 3-percent year-to-date drop. With only 305,942 sales between the LaCrosse, Impala, 300, Charger, Taurus, Azera, Cadenza, Maxima and Avalon so far this year, segment-wide sales are down 23 percent compared with the first eight months of 2013. Their share of the U.S. car market is down to just 5.8 percent, barely better than the Toyota Camry, which produces 5.5 percent of all U.S. car sales on its own.
Automakers read the tea leaves. The latest Ford Taurus was revealed in Shanghai for Chinese, not American, buyers. In Canada, Hyundai doesn’t even bother to offer the Azera, recognizing there’s no demand for the car. Mazda and Mitsubishi, which once positioned sedans above their midsize nameplates, have long since given up on the segment.
As for the Charger, I’m duty bound to acknowledge that I want one, particularly in Hellcat form or as a Chrysler 300. I’m just surprised that I don’t feel that a car of this size works for me at this stage of my life. Then again, my demands for family friendliness are substantial.
More by Timothy Cain
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