Midsize Sedan Lifewatch? Toyota Believes New Camry Ends Segment Decline - Or Not

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
midsize sedan lifewatch toyota believes new camry ends segment decline or not

“When you get into next year and you look at 2018, I believe with these three products

and the excitement they bring back to that segment, I don’t see it falling anymore.”

– Jack Hollis, Toyota Motor Sales USA’s VP of marketing

U.S. sales of midsize cars tumbled by more than 250,000 units in 2016 even as new vehicle volume rose to record highs. The rate of decline was sharper than the decline experienced by the car sector at large. Only Chevrolet, with the all-new Malibu, and Subaru, with the relatively low-volume Legacy, sold more midsize cars in 2016 than in 2015.

Fleet sales excluded, retail data manifests a worsening of results as the year wore on. According to J.D. Power’s PIN December Industry Health Report, midsize car market share fell below 10 percent for the first time ever.

But Toyota USA’s marketing chief, Jack Hollis, believes 2017 could mark the end of the midsize decline, and 2018 sales of midsize cars could even begin to increase.

Hollis credits, in advance, the arrival of the new Toyota Camry, which debuted earlier this week at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show, in addition to new iterations of top rivals.

A new version of the Honda Accord, America’s second-best-selling car, is due this year, with a new Nissan Altima following shortly thereafter, according to Automotive News.

“I believe with these three products and the excitement they bring back to that segment, I don’t see it falling anymore,” Hollis said in Detroit. Hollis predicts flat sales in 2017 and a slight improvement in 2018.

Sound crazy? As auto sales climbed to record levels in 2015, midsize cars slid 2 percent. As overall auto sales broke 2015’s record in 2016, midsize car volume plunged 11 percent.

Yet if any automaker has a grasp on the American midsize market, surely it would be Toyota, which, along with Honda, has dominated the segment for nearly two decades.

With a remarkable 60 percent of Camry buyers historically returning for another Camry, Toyota’s Hollis believes plenty of buyers will come back to the Camry; they won’t all be steered aside to crossover alternatives.

The Toyota brass, however, may not be in full agreement. One year ago, Toyota’s North American CEO, Jim Lentz, questioned how long the Camry would continue to be the brand’s best-selling product. The RAV4 then outsold the Camry in two of 2016’s final five months.

Now, Automotive News reports, Lentz believes the new products will only spur enough demand to stall the speed at which the midsize segment is sliding.

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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  • Pmirp1 Pmirp1 on Jan 13, 2017

    Feels like an old man trying to get back in shape to compete with those young new hunks. The new Camry may be better in every way, but I am afraid this is the age of SUVs. The wave is overwhelming no matter how good a swimmer you are. Sedans will never have the place they used to enjoy. Here in Atlanta yesterday I took my Jeep to get it washed in 70 degree weather, and all around me were SUVs, the few sedans looked so lonely and poor, even a pretty beige white Lexus LS that a Mexican looking dude was washing with sweat on his face. Still it was the black Chevy Tahoe looking thing next to him with after market wheels that a bro was polishing that garnered all the attention, leaving the LS to look poverty level. It is the age of SUVs.

  • Sam Hell Jr Sam Hell Jr on Jan 13, 2017

    I will get off this soapbox sometime next never: if there is one good thing about the trend toward teardrop profiles and SUVs, it is getting the market used to the convenience of a liftgate. Once you go hatch, you don't go back. The few non-SUVs that turn heads anymore - the Model S, the A7 - are hatchbacks, and I eagerly await the downmarket movement of that trend (as well as, arguably, the upmarket movement, from the reasonably popular and pretty luxe B- and C-segment hatches). Relevant to this discussion because, overseas, the big car segment is all 'bout that five-door, and the new Camry roofline basically runs the length of the car anyway. If there is life after death for mid-size sedans, my $0.02 ... Luxury fastback aping. C'mon, Toyota. You're already granting my wish with torque converters and natural aspiration. Make it a hat trick.

    • Gtem Gtem on Jan 13, 2017

      Agreed 100%. Short of a full on wagon, a 5 door liftback shape is my favorite body style in terms of utility (and looks).

  • Bobbysirhan Engines are important.
  • Hunter Ah California. They've been praying for water for years, and now that it's here they don't know what to do with it.
  • FreedMike I think this illustrates a bit of Truth About PHEVs: it's hard to see where they "fit." On paper, they make sense because they're the "best of both worlds." Yes, if you commute 20-30 miles a day, you can generally make it on electric power only, and yes, if you're on a 500-mile road trip, you don't have to worry about range. But what percentage of buyers has a 20-mile commute, or takes 500-mile road trips? Meanwhile, PHEVs are more expensive than hybrids, and generally don't offer the performance of a BEV (though the RAV4 PHEV is a first class sleeper). Seems this propulsion type "works" for a fairly narrow slice of buyers, which explains why PHEV sales haven't been all that great. Speaking for my own situation only, assuming I had a place to plug in every night, and wanted something that ran on as little gas as possible, I'd just "go electric" - I'm a speed nut, and when it comes to going fast, EVs are awfully hard to beat. If I was into hypermiling, I'd just go with a hybrid. Of course, your situation might vary, and if a PHEV fits it, then by all means, buy one. But the market failure of PHEVs tells me they don't really fit a lot of buyers' situations. Perhaps that will change as charging infrastructure gets built out, but I just don't see a lot of growth in PHEVs.
  • Kwik_Shift Thank you for this. I always wanted get involved with racing, but nothing happening locally.
  • Arthur Dailey Love the Abe Rothstein tribute suits. Too bad about the car. Seems to have been well loved for most of its life.