By on December 2, 2016

Front Pedestrian Braking, a new active safety technology available on the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu and 2016 Cadillac CT6, is one of many safety features tested at General Motors' new Active Safety Test Area at the Milford Proving Ground in Milford, Michigan. Image: Jeffrey Sauger/General Motors

U.S. sales of midsize cars remained on an even keel in November 2016, decreasing by only one-tenth of one percent compared with November 2015.

But make no mistake: the midsize car category still took a hit in November. While volume remained level, the segment’s share of the overall U.S. new vehicle market fell below 12 percent last month, the fifth consecutive November in which midsize market share has declined. 


This is the sixth edition of TTAC’s Midsize Sedan Deathwatch. The midsize sedan as we know it — “midsizedus sedanicus” in the original latin — isn’t going anywhere any time soon, but the ongoing sales contraction will result in a reduction of mainstream intermediate sedans in the U.S. market. 

How do we know? It already has.


Midsize car sales plunged 12 percent through the first ten months of 2016. That decline takes into account an 18-percent slide between July and October that resulted in nearly 150,000 lost sales. November’s leveling off, therefore, was a comparatively wonderful result, particularly for those in favor of ending TTAC’s Midsize Sedan Deathwatch.

But the segment’s modest loss of around 100 units in November 2016 comes one year after the midsize segment took a big hit. In November 2015, midsize volume had fallen 8 percent, a sharp downturn after essentially level sales through the previous ten months. That November 2015 decline acted as an effective harbinger. Only once since, with a slight 1-percent uptick in February, has midsize sedan volume increased on a year-over-year basis in America.

Thus, while last month’s U.S. sales of midsize cars decreased by just 0.1 percent compared with November 2015, they were down 9 percent compared with November 2014. Last month’s 15,000-unit decline over compared with November 2014 resulted in a market share loss of 2 percentage points for the midsize car category.

During the same period, the overall market’s volume, excluding midsize cars, grew 8 percent.

U.S. midsize sedan sales chart - Image: © The Truth About Cars

Surging sales of the new Chevrolet Malibu did protect the midsize segment from greater losses in November 2016. Malibu sales jumped 72 percent, year-over-year, a gain of 7,764 units, effectively cancelling out the losses incurred by the Chrysler 200, which we have watched die very slowly.

Year-over-year, Subaru added 1,045 sales to the Legacy’s tally for 5,814 units in total, the best November ever for the nameplate.

After the diesel emissions crisis caused Volkswagen Passat sales to tumble to a 51-month low in November 2015, Passat sales more than doubled to 6,441 units in November 2016, a three-month high. Honda Accord volume rose 6 percent.

With a new Camry set to be revealed at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next month, sales of the outgoing model tumbled 9 percent in November 2016, the tenth consecutive decline for America’s best-selling car. Ford Fusion sales decreased for a fifth consecutive month. Altima, Sonata, Optima? Down, down, down.

And then there’s Mazda. The Mazda 6’s 1 percent drop resulted in only 3,046 sales in November 2016. This was the 6’s second consecutive month below 4,000 units; the fifth month this year in which Mazda USA failed to report at least 4,000 sales. Only 1.9 percent of the midsize cars sold in America in November — only 2.2 percent year-to-date — were Mazda 6s.

That 1 percent drop in volume at Mazda actually represented a 9-percent decrease in the daily selling rate of the company’s midsize sedan. Indeed, the whole segment’s year-over-year results were skewed by the odd auto sales calendar that didn’t start “November 2015” until the third day of the month. As a result, the November 2016 auto sales month, which fell in line with your calendar, actually featured two additional selling days.

Though total volume was flat, the daily selling rate for the midsize segment was actually down 8 percent.

Kelley Blue Book says the average transaction price in the midsize segment increased 0.6 percent compared with November 2015 but fell 0.6 percent compared with October 2016. Across the industry, TrueCar says the average per-vehicle incentive spend was up 13 percent compared with November 2016.

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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28 Comments on “Midsize Sedan Deathwatch #6: November 2016 Sales Flat, Market Share Keeps Falling...”


  • avatar
    Conslaw

    Thanks for the informative report. It seems like buyers don’t realize how good midsized sedans are these days. I rented a bare-bones 2017 Ford Fusion, middle-of-the-pack on the sales chart, and it was quite good, even with the base 2.5 liter engine. On another trip, a 2016 Chevrolet Malibu performed equally well.

  • avatar
    NotFast

    The question is… what do we, as auto enthusiasts DO to either reverse or take advantage of this trend?

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      take advantage…

      Go look at a site like “CarGurus” and look up sedans you might be interested in. I can almost guarantee you’ll find some dealers that have been sitting on inventory too long and are willing to deal.

      Especially if you are looking at used/CPO. Unless the sedan in question is something special, a sedan is almost lot poison for many dealers now.

      • 0 avatar
        thunderjet

        This. I just bought a 2017 Accord EX-L V6. I got unbelievable offers from several dealers that were thousands below MSRP even with t,t&l. Mid size sedans aren’t moving and deals abound if you want one.

        • 0 avatar
          Quick Double Nickel

          @thunderjet – That is the exact car I’m looking at. Do you mind disclosing the ballpark number you paid? I’d love to get an idea of a number to shoot for.

          • 0 avatar
            thunderjet

            MSRP on the 2017 Accord EX-L V6 we just bought (Nov 17) was $31730. We were quoted $26900 (lower than what both True Car and Edmunds said was a “good deal”) and paid a little under $29700 out the door.

            Of course I live in a major metro area (Chicago) with plenty of dealers around who are willing to compete with each other for a sale, which helps.

        • 0 avatar
          Quick Double Nickel

          Thank you. I was hoping to get to the $26,000-$26,500 number before “added cost”, so that looks promising. I’m in the Phoenix metro area.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Nothing. The midsizers of today are the large sedans of yesterday. Peak sedan (or hatchback) is the C-segment, as evidenced by the steady sales volume in that segment. To me, something like a GTI has way more appeal and intrigue than any of the 190″+ “midsize” behemoths.

  • avatar
    Speed3

    So I shouldn’t hold my breath for an Accord wagon anytime soon?

    I’m not sure “death watch” is the appropriate phrase. Sure the 200 has been cancelled, but there are a lot of considerations as to why a company decides to compete in any segment and how much to invest in it.

    Sure the Mazda 6 is the runt of the pack (sales-wise only of course), but Mazda sells about as many 6s as Ford sells Fiestas, and Ford isn’t going to cancel that anytime soon.

    Subaru would probably be selling more Legacys if they had more capacity too.

    Kia sells about 5 Cadenzas a year but still are redesigning that model so no way they are going to give up on the Optima.

    So there are a lot of factors. I do think we will see overall market share continue to shrink (and volume too as the market is mature).

    The main issue is that this segment is being pulled from two directions – Compact cars are bigger and better than ever before. Car prices are getting ever more expensive. For a lot of folks who just need a sedan, the jump to mid-size isn’t necessary.

    On the other hand, crossovers are taking away from Midsize with their more family friendly packaging (or at least people believe so). The tradeoffs for crossovers is no longer there. Fuel economy is way better now and gas is cheap again. They also drive much better than the SUVs of the 90s craze.

    I think death watch is more appropriate for non-luxury full size sedans, but its also worth pondering what demographic is best served by a fwd mid-size sedan.

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      I agree this whole death watch is misguided. Sales have fallen for a year or so yet the segment will still sell more than most other segments. Tim Cain seems to revel in any declines, however small such as the 1000 until drop. The DSR is a red herring – lets just compare one month to another. Car sales at a 6 day a week business and if people want to buy a car in a said month then they have plenty of opportunity to do so. Monthly figures are bound to be noisy depending when months start and end so the quarterly or even annual figures give a much better picture.

  • avatar
    Caboose

    Midsized sedans are a utility segment. They are family-haulers and commuters for a large group of middle-class folks. When their makers tried to make them sporty, they demolished rear headroom, making the whole segment unsuitable for use by adults, thus killing the utility. That same styling direction meant that trunk openings got more weirdly-shaped and less easy to access. Again, a utility-killer.

    So now, when my two-point-five kids are toddlers, the midsized sedan still works as well as it ever did. But when they get to be nine, and start participating in extra-curriculars, I can’t keep my midsized sedan or even replace it. Now I need to get a crossover. In short, midsized sedan design that deprioritized utility is what I think is killing the segment.

    Since everything old is cool again, maybe they could reintroduce a proper three-box sedan (Volvo 240!) with cabins and trunks that prioritize ingress, egress, and access; that don’t leave me with a sore back after an afternoon spent running errands with toddlers. Those traits used to be abundant in family cars. They remain abundant in many crossovers and, especially, minivans.

    Want to recover the segment? Return to the segment the attributes valued by those who used to buy in the segment. But why would the makers do that? They’ve preferred to transfer those attributes to more profitable segments. This is America; we’re pragmatists at heart. We place a premium on utility; the car-makers place a premium on vehicles that offer utility.

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      I understand your point and agree in part. However my 7 and 9 year olds fit in a mid size sedan easily and has sufficient cargo space for swim team and basketball. Crossovers are popular because of the elevated driving position, the option of AWD and the more flexible cargo area because they are essentially hatchbacks.

  • avatar

    And then came OPEC.

  • avatar
    Whatnext

    I agree with the assessment that swoopy rooflines are turning buyers off midsize cars. If you can’t load kids or granny in the rear seat easily, it’s not a sale in this segment. Automakers need to leave the “4 door coupe” look to specialty models.

    It’s hard to believe FCA can just afford to walk away from all those 200 sales. Since the Passat is just limping along ahead of the Mazda 6, maybe Sergio can get VW to build him a midsizer!

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I think this analysis has to really be tempered. I’m too lazy to run the numbers now but I have in the past… when you take the 200 out it’s still pretty bad, but nowhere as bad.

    Either way the concept of the large sedan continues to fall out of favor, and this class has grown to a size that appeals to a shrinking slice of the population. C-segment crossovers give the same interior space with much more practicality; C-segment sedans/hatchbacks offer the same practicality with much lower cost of ownership. For me personally, as a fan of smaller cars and motorcycles, the prospect of piloting a 3400lb + behemoth just doesn’t have much appeal, when I can get a more practical and fun to drive ~2900lb sedan or hatch for less money.

    • 0 avatar
      Quick Double Nickel

      While I agree that a base, 4-cylinder model of a mid-size sedan doesn’t have much appeal over a similar 4-cylinder equipped C-segment sedan, it’s the upgraded mills in the mid-size that generate the difference, in my opinion.

      If you are referring to just the base 4-cylinder versions of the mid-size than your argument holds more water.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        Agreed, but the upgraded engines account of less than 20% of the market going of Honda and Toyota data. Also that doesn`t explain why the compact crossover that is competing (on price and size) the mid size sedan seems to cope with just a 180 ish hp engine (RAV 4 and CRV)

  • avatar

    If you look at a midsize Accord sedan from 1997 and a new Civic, they’re about the same size.

    To me, the best advantage of the mid-sizers was the V-6 engine. Now the 4-bangers are smooth and powerful and shared with the compacts. So with mid-sizers they take away the 3-liter V-6, and increase the cost with doo-dads and gimcrackery. Then they make ’em softer and blander in a market jammed with look-alikes.

    In those circumstances, why would anyone who doesn’t need room for more than 2-3 people and not interested in a CUV go for a three-box midsizer?

  • avatar
    headphone lampshade router

    Poor Mazda.

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      They still make money and the 6 is doing OK in other markets (where it sells in wagon form too). The chassis is shared with other models so there will be a 6 for a long time, which should disappoint Mr Cain.

      • 0 avatar
        zoomzoomfan

        Came here to say the same thing. Tim and the others at TTAC seem to want the 6, and Mazda in general, to fail.

        Sure, their cars aren’t perfect. But, what they’ve been able to do as such a small company is nothing short of amazing to me. I foresee them only getting better as they learn from their mistakes, much the way Toyota and Honda did way, way back when.

        And as someone with a five year loan on a new Mazda6, I’d prefer the model didn’t get discontinued and leave me upside down with a tanking resale value.

        • 0 avatar

          TTAC reviews of Mazda products have been generally favorable. The fact that the brand has had difficulty catching on in the States is a reality that we have to report.

          • 0 avatar
            zoomzoomfan

            This is true. They do have a bit of a sales problem when you compare them to the giant players like Honda, Toyota, etc. But, you have to remember how small of a company Mazda is, as well. If for some reason people wanted the same amount of Mazda6s as they do Honda Accords, I doubt Mazda would even be able to produce them.

            I don’t want to come off as someone who dislikes when anyone speaks about the flaws of a company or a car. I’ve had my 6 for a year. I know it’s not perfect. But, it is a solid alternative to the major players. However, a lot of Americans just don’t care about alternatives. They want what is easiest and most familiar. And, Toyota is all-too-eager to deliver that.


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