U.S. Midsize Car Sales: Most Buyers Don't Make The Obvious Choice

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
u s midsize car sales most buyers dont make the obvious choice

If your neighbor tells you they’re thinking of buying or leasing a new midsize sedan, you wouldn’t be crazy to assume that they’ve likely visited the local Toyota, Honda, and Nissan dealers.

Yet the majority of U.S. midsize car buyers do not, in fact, choose the Camry, Accord, or Altima.

Diversity wins. The dominator isn’t all-conquering.

The Toyota Camry remains the best-selling car in America, and thus the best-selling car in its midsize/intermediate category. 2015 was the 14th consecutive year of U.S. passenger car sales leadership for the Camry.

Despite a modest 1-percent year-over-year decline through the first two months of 2016, the Camry has increased its share of the category from 17.9 percent in the first two months of 2015 – and 18.2 percent in calendar year 2015 – to 18.3 percent in January and February of 2016.

As Nissan switches over to an updated 2016 model, U.S. sales of the Altima declined 8 percent in the first two months of 2016, a loss of more than 4,000 sales. After averaging 247,500 annual Altima sales between 2004 and 2011, Nissan now sells more than 300,000 Altima sales every year, with 2015’s total down just 2,246 sales shy of 2014’s record 335,644 units.

The Honda Accord currently ranks third in the category, but it should have no difficulty securing second spot in the category by year’s end based on its current rate of growth. Accord volume is up 9-percent year-to-date and Accord volume has increased in six consecutive months.

It’s clear then that this is the meat of the batting order, three big bats surrounded by major league underachievers. Yet combined, the eight CamCorTima alternatives from Ford, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Kia, Chrysler, Subaru, Volkswagen, and Mazda do more damage at the plate, to continue the analogy.

48.3 percent of the new midsize cars sold in January and February were Camrys, Accords, and Altimas, up a full percentage point compared with 2015’s first two months (and calendar year 2015 but on par with 2014’s results.

This leaves nearly three-quarters of the cars in the category to pick up just over half the sales, no sterling achievement for the fellas hitting at the bottom of the order, but proof nevertheless that most Americans don’t want a Camry, Altima, or Accord.

The Chrysler 200’s previously disclosed losses are well-known and are largely to blame for the segment’s overall decline in early 2016 and the ability of the top three to increase their share. (200 aside, U.S. midsize car sales are up 3 percent, rather than down 3 percent.) U.S. sales of the Kia Optima are down 14 percent so far this year. Predictably, Volkswagen Passat volume tumbled 37 percent during the first two months of 2016. The least popular Mazda6 lost 30 percent of its January/February sales.

Meanwhile, U.S. sales of the Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonata, and Subaru Legacy are on the rise. The Malibu’s 53-percent increase in February is most notable.

With fewer competitors with which to tangle, there are dominant players in other categories that far exceed the Camry’s 18-percent market share figure. Dodge and Chrysler’s minivans combined to own 44 percent of America’s minivan market in the first two months of 2016. But they essentially have but four direct rivals. 36 percent of the full-size trucks sold in America are Ford F-Series pickups, but the F-Series has only five rivals from Ram, General Motors, Nissan, and Toyota. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class grabs four in ten flagship luxury car sales, but rivals hail only from Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Lexus, and Porsche. We wrote already this month about the Toyota Tacoma’s ownership of the midsize truck arena, but the Tacoma is one of only four trucks currently competing in the category.

The collective American car-buying public unwittingly consistently makes sure the obvious midsize choices don’t become automatic choices, thereby leaving enough market share for lower-tier players to make development a worthwhile endeavour. The biggest factor standing in the way of low-volume cars like the Mazda6, Volkswagen Passat, Subaru Legacy, and Chrysler 200 isn’t the dominance of the high-volume Toyotas, Nissans, and Hondas. At least not yet.

Rather, it’s the strength of small SUVs/crossovers – which now easily outsell midsize cars – that throws a wrench into the works. For every Mazda6, Passat, Legacy, and 200 sold so far this year, Mazda, Volkswagen, Subaru, and Jeep sold more than two CX-5s, Tiguans, Foresters, and Cherokees.

[Images: Toyota, Nissan, Honda]

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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  • Bd2 Bd2 on Mar 20, 2016

    Don't know why TC including the Altima when it really had been the Accord and Camry dominating the mainstream, midsize sedan segment. For instance, in 1999, Honda sold 404,192 Accords and Toyota 445,696 Camrys (and this was before Toyota was sending the Camry into rental fleets in any large nos.) while the competition sold half of that or less, including Nissan with the Altima. The Altima only broke the 300k sales barrier in 2012. The Big 2 - the "Camcord," while still very successful, have been losing market share to the competition. The Fusion used to sell around 150k - now it sells over 300k. The Sonata used to sell around 60-70k and then rose to 150k and now over 200k (similarly, sales of the Optima jumped from around 30k to about 160k). Of the main competitors, the only one which hadn't seen a marked growth in sales was Chevy with the Malibu as the previous Malibu was a bit underwhelming and had shrunk in size. The new, much improved Malibu will likely grow sales even with a shrinking sedan market.

    • Nickoo Nickoo on Mar 20, 2016

      I see the new sonata everywhere. Way more than any of it's other newer competitors. I imagine that it's low cost of entry and huge interior are helping it quite a bit.

  • Zoomzoomfan Zoomzoomfan on Mar 21, 2016

    I have a 2016 Mazda6 (bought because my wife and I are planning to have a child within the next year). A baby seat fits just fine in it, same as it would in a Camry, Accord, Altima, etc. It amazes me that Americans demand so much space in their vehicles. I understand that it needs to be comfortable and haul a decent amount of cargo, but I don't exactly need a Lincoln Town Car to fit one infant seat.

  • Wolfwagen I worked for a few companies that have used Transit Connects for service or delivery and of course as Cabs in NYC (NV200 are the best cabs in NYC- plenty of legroom). I had never seen one as a passenger vehicle until a few months ago when I saw one at the local HD parking lot. It looked great for a small family or even an active couple that needs secure storage. However, I have never seen any advertisement from Ford for this model/trim
  • Bike It's a bizarre conversation, for us folks outside the US.
  • RICK Once had 78 TOWN COUPE and wish I had never let it go! Ultimate OTT excessive luxury! Have since had RWD FLEETWOODS, RWD Fifth Avenues ,as well as 89 Lincoln Town Car Signature Series and current 2007 TOWN CAR Signature Limited! All great cars, but 77 through 79 was KING 🤴 of the road! So sad to see what is now considered a luxury vehicle 😢. Who wants to drive a glorified truck 🚚?
  • Kwik_Shift There are better cars to drop $80G on.
  • 28-Cars-Later Opulence!