By on February 3, 2017

2017 Ford Mustang blue - Image: Ford

Across much of the United States, January is not the season for pony car purchases.

In fact, January is not the season for big automotive purchases in general.

Auto sales are at their lowest point in January. The rush to buy and lease vehicles in December, when spending comes naturally and time away from the office is easy to come by, is over. The weather typically takes a turn. Wallets are not flush.

Last month, U.S. auto sales dropped 2 percent from January 2016 levels. Blame a 13-percent passenger car downturn.

But the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Dodge Challenger all tanked at a substantially worse rate than the market at large, following up a disappointing 2016 with January results that had better not set the stage for 2017.

Combined, the trio tumbled 36 percent, a total loss of more than 6,700 sales compared with January 2016 (when sales had already slowed compared with January 2015).

2017 Dodge Challenger GT AWD - Image: FCA

We can spread blame across the board in equal measure.

The oldest member of the fleet, Dodge’s Challenger, plunged 40 percent to only 3,393 units. That’s the worst monthly result for the Challenger in three years.

The Chevrolet Camaro, all-new last year but distinctly less common in new sixth-gen form than it was even as an aged fifth-gen model, took a 35 percent dive to 3,588 units. That’s the worst full-month result* for the Camaro since the nameplate returned in 2009.

Even the segment leader, the Ford Mustang, fell 33 percent to 5,046 units, a 27-month low.

Ford doesn’t seem surprised.

“Sports cars like Mustang generally have fairly compressed product cycles,” Ford sales analyst Erich Merkle told TTAC. The sixth-generation Mustang arrived at dealers in the latter half of 2014.

“Early on, we were satisfying a lot of pent-up demand as buyers in this segment tend to wait for the launch of the newest model,” Merkle said. “Last month, we announced the upcoming introduction of the new 2018 Mustang.”

Which makes the next few months a waiting period for Mustang enthusiasts and a slower period for Mustang sales.

The degree to which buyers flock to the refreshed Mustang when the 2018 model arrives — there are significant mechanical upgrades but styling changes that haven’t pleased everyone — will have a real impact on the Camaro, and to a lesser extent, the Challenger.

2016 Chevrolet Camaro

With the Camaro standing out as the freshest pony car on the block, or perhaps not standing out enough given its evolutionary design changes, Chevrolet still couldn’t manage to unseat the slightly older Mustang from its top-selling perch in 2016, a second consecutive year of victory for the Ford.

General Motors owned that position in the U.S. market for five consecutive years beginning in 2010 and appears increasingly incapable of earning it back. Camaro sales fell 6 percent in 2016 — the Mustang’s decline was admittedly even more significant — and inventories ballooned as customers simply didn’t turn up at dealers in the numbers GM expected.

Heading into the new year, Automotive News said Chevrolet had nearly five months of Camaro supply, or more than 35,000 cars. Ford, with stronger sales, had supply of roughly 30,000 Mustangs on January 1, 2017. Dodge Challenger inventory was up to nearly 21,000 units.

January may be nothing more than a blip on the radar. Indeed, given the small size of the market overall, it is just a blip. But it’s a blip that follows segment-wide declines in eight of the last nine months. This blip is part of a discouraging trend that can’t easily be unsettled.

* Only 614 Camaros were reported sold in May 2009, the abbreviated launch month for the fifth-gen Camaro.

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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44 Comments on “In The Bleak Midwinter: Detroit’s Muscle Coupes Stumble Out Of The Gate In 2017...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    NOBODY WANTS TO BUY A RWD BEAST IN THE MIDDLE OF WINTER

    Film at 11.

    In other news “water still wet!”

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      You missed it.

      It’s not that sales were particularly poor compared with May – that would be expected and anticipated and obvious and normal. “Film at 11. In other news…”

      No, the one-third Mustang drop, for instance, was in comparison to January 2016. Which is also winter.

      The purpose of YOY comparisons is to erase the need to compensate for the seasonality of the market.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      Or maybe no one wants to buy a RWD beast with discretionary income when politics are far from predictable?

    • 0 avatar
      wumpus

      I’ve heard of at least one guy who claimed to get a great deal (cue salesmen/etc. pointing out how likely such a statement is) on a genesis during winter. I think it was end of February or similar (and in a high-snow area), so anyone with Canadian-level snow exerience could get a great deal on the “move the unmovable/hit the month’s quota” sale.

      In other words, if you have the money buy the convertible *now*.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This generation of the Camaro is doomed. GM should just stop its production, redesign it, and offer a new version for sale as a 2019 model.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      A thorough reskinning would do the job. No need to totally reinvent the wheel since the bones are good.

    • 0 avatar
      tylanner

      I think it fits perfectly in the segment…it is an enthusiasts dream, the mustang is prettier but slower and the challenger is…eh.

      You want pretty get a grand sport as the Vette has perfected this look…a reskinned nextgen Camaro wont look as good as the c7 but would cost nearly as much…

      The current SS 1LE is menacing and I quite like it.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s too small and too expensive compared to the competition.

        People buying these cars are not connoisseurs of a fine chassis and good suspension tuning. They want a lot of car to do RWD burnouts with the kids in the back because Murica.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      It’s a pity that this is what it has come to with the Camaro. When I went sniffing around the Chevy lots over the summer, the dealers were acting like they were doing me a favor letting me just look at a Camaro. I bet they’d be singing a different tune now.

      Yesterday marks the second time I’ve seen a Gen-6 Camaro in the wild. As in, a Camaro someone actually bought and owns, as opposed to one sitting at a dealership. And it’s not like muscle cars aren’t popular around here. Mustangs (new and old), Challengers, and Gen-5 Camaros (V6 only) are everywhere.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Last week I assumed the role of “car concierge” and went car shopping with my 88 year old mother. We ended up at a Buick/GMC dealer looking at Buick Encores. I asked the F&I manager howo business was, and he said that it was slow even by January standards. They usually sell between 65 and 80 cars in January at this location and had only sold 42 by Jan 28. Sales were way down across the entire product line.

    In addition to a pile of Buicks and GMC SUVs, they had at least 50 full sized GMC pickups waiting for buyers. Is this an isolated situation or the start of the inevitable auto slow down?

    • 0 avatar
      SilverCoupe

      When I played “car concierge” with my 80 year old dad back in ’96, to replace his ’64 Riviera (I wanted him to have something safer to drive, with air bags and the like), he said that he wanted a two door Camry that he had seen. I said there was no such thing (Solera excepted). It turned out that what he had seen was a Camaro. He still wanted a hot car at his age! He ended up settling for a Monte Carlo (another one of our family’s long line of “Silver Coupes”) but he later wished he had gotten a four door, so that his elderly friends would have had an easier time getting in and out of it.

  • avatar
    raph

    I’ll be interested to see how the NCAP two star rating affects the Mustang overseas.

    Australian “Auto Expert” John Cadogan is having a field day with the NCAP rating.

    >> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vupJqnNyaE <<

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    Pony-crossover
    win

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      Sadly you are probably right. Some soulless bastard will make that argument and win one day at the product planner meeting. In the mean time I’m going to be getting my pimp hand in top shape for that day and for the unlucky soul that tries to pitch a pony-crossover to me.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      Then it would be more of a Clydesdale.

    • 0 avatar
      LS1Fan

      They already made that car.
      It’s called a Dodge Magnum, and they sold quite a few of em.

      If anyone in FCA still cares about profit,they’d make a V6/V8 powered version of a Subaru Outback ASAP.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    OMG – that shade of blue.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    There really is no reason to buy one of these, the pent up demand is done as pointed out and these cars sell on looks as much as anything else and the looks have not changed in dodge and Chevy’s case and as pointed out the new ford is around the corner , the weather in the northeast has been fine so far so no issue there, most guys I know who have these cars are ok with driving what they have or are dumping them to get into something they can see out of and get in and out of easier.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      Seth,
      These are feel good products. The reality is a more useful alternative that offers more flexibily can be had for the same price and a lot less.

      As people rein in their household spending these types of products will become less important for day to day survival. These are just toys to most.

      They are very desirable, but not a necessity.

  • avatar
    dougjp

    El Nino last year, not this year.

  • avatar
    BoogerROTN

    Everybody who wanted one of these cars already bought one and w/72 month financing becoming the new 60 month financing, they’re locked into them for a while.

    And for those of us that live up north, cars like the Mustang become third garage, 3/4 season, weekend cruisers. I’ve already got that situation (’66 FB) so even w/DINK, I’ve got no place to park a new vanity purchase.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I think these types of vehicles reflect the attitude of the market.

    If I’m correct you will see a flattening or even a decline in the “Fun factor” vehicles. The vehicles I’m describing are the more affordable fun vehicles.

    These are relatively established vehicles.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Like so many things the muscle-coupe resurgence was largely fueled by retiring baby boomers. An echo of the 1960s and 70s that was never meant to last.

    Same thing happened with cruiser (aka ‘old guy’) motorcycles. Maturing baby boomers went crazy for these things in the 1990s and 2000s, trying to recapture their youth. But sales are dying in 2017. The final act in this story is the three-wheeler fad, which will probably be even shorter-lived.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      Don,
      I agree with you.

      I don’t think one third of the Baby Boomers died over Christmas.

      There is only so much you can do with a car and “old ideas” are “new ideas” again.

      This is why I believe light commercial vehicles will always be in vogue. These will always be needed and they are small enough to be used as daily drivers.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      I think that is a bit of an over-exaggeration. Remember when the Challenger first came out? Many of the B&B sang the song that this was for over the hill boomers trying to recapture their youth blah blah blah. Demand would quickly be met and the Chally would become fixed to the dealer’s floor. Didn’t turn out that way, now did it? Same was said with the Camaroo albeit with mullet references, and that, too, proved to be false. Is this now the death knell? I doubt it. These kind of cars tend to be a bit of a fashion statement, and as such tend to have shorter shelf lives. They are also in a more price sensitive market. The GM car shot itself in the foot with its styling, cost, and visibility. Had there been more of a change in appearance, and the ability to see out of it, I don’t think the cost would have mattered as much because of the sheer competence of the car. I disagree with the poster above that refinement and chassis tuning is meaningless in this class of car. Such competency is welcome in pretty much everything.

  • avatar
    Rday

    I don’t think that most of the younger crowd is interested in muscle cars. Just old farts and men still out to find their youth by driving a vehicle that was popular in their teens. I see this market continuing to shrink. my gf has a 2007 shelby and it is too much work to drive with a 6 manual and too low for a fat old fart like me to get in and out of easily. The seats are great but it is suicide to drive on ice/snow or wet roads. So it is a warm weather car and that is an expensive toy for many people that don’t have extra funds. plus the insurance in california is really expensive.
    I guess I just like big trucks and toyota rav’s as my drivers. At my age looking for comfort and ease/safety plus all kinds of new electronic gadgets that boggle my mind. The adaptive speed control is amazing and the automatic dimming headlight work just great in the toyota. My gimmy is great but way behind the toyota when it comes to technology. If i had bought the Limited rav the features were really amazing but i just got the lxe.
    I really like the 3500 but the DEF is hard to refill and i get prox 1000mi out of a gallon, Home Depot has the best price and the stock is current.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      There is still plenty of young people interested in a pony car. They’ve just gotten increasingly expensive to the point where they ( especially in heroic form coupled with high operating costs) have become unattainable for most.

      >> but it is suicide to drive on ice/snow or wet roads. <<

      Naw, I had an 09 Shelby and on a good cool day you would be riding around with over 500 pound-feet of torque on tap from 2,500-6,000 rpm and all wrapped up at that 6k was 700 horsepower.

      I drove it all four seasons and on summer tires even in the snow.

      Yes it could be a handful in snow with the summer tires (got caught in a freak snow storm on a rainy day in my AO) but otherwise not a bad car at all.

      I've even done a 1400 mile trip in that car and it was a non-issue.

      In the end due to crappy tire selection I did put the car on Michelin Pilot AS 3's – they worked as well as the craptacular Nitto NT555s when it came to dry handling in just about every day to day circumstance and extended the envelop in cold and wet weather very well.

      One of these days I'm going to have to do a VIN search and see what became of the car. People just don't respect power and that car had it in spades. Probably see it wrapped around a pole after leaving a C&C one day.

      It was a faithful companion for 98,000 miles.

  • avatar

    A part of me wants a pony car, but I hate retro styling…which all three are desperately clinging to.

    I’d love for all of them to start with a fresh-sheet design and come out with something modern.

  • avatar
    orenwolf

    I’ve driven recent model Camaros and Mustangs and enjoyed them both, but they both just felt too big and heavy for me. I suppose the RX8 spoiled me to that category of vehicle.

    I actually *like* the Camaro’s styling best of the three, which I guess as usual makes me an outlier. )

  • avatar
    olddavid

    Or, perhaps after seventeen MILLION units, a collective peak has been hit and the market is cooling back to a measly 16. Which was unthinkable to us in my first year as an adult in the business, when America had just hit 200 million people. The more things change, the more…….

  • avatar
    mikehgl

    As a boomer (54 years young) I considered a Mustang, but Michigan winters combined with the not- very practical two door coupe design nixed it for me. Plus my desire for a stick, combined with rear wheel drive was a questionable choice as a daily driver in the great white north. So it was a mix of practical and fun factor that put me in a 16 Focus ST. The pony cars are a poor choice for many folks, even though they are desirable.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Mike, while you are on the edge of what is defined as a “boomer” do you really think you are? I am also on the ragged edge of boomer vs X and frankly have little in common with the boomer generation other than some of the music…

  • avatar
    LS1Fan

    There’s two broad patterns at work here.

    It’s been said before,but the message bears repeating. The type of guy who owned a muscle car in the 70s is now pushing a used Buick or new Avalon.

    His modern day,macho man contemporary drives a lifted BroDozer high enough to be seen on ATC radar.

    Second,modern muscle cars are powerful enough to offer a totally inaccessible driving experience for Joe Ordinary. My LS1 is ancient compared to the modern iron,but even that vintage Canadian product will put you in the morgue if not driven with respect. I can neither safely or legally approach 70% of what that Camaro can do on a clear public road -and it was made 15 years ago. A modern day Challenger/Mustang/Camaro?

    Fugediboutit. May as well be a Lamborghini for all the fun they are on a public road crawling at 5MPH traffic.

    Having a high speed performance car is all well and good, but what’s the point when your roads are congested parking lots and you risk felony speeding charges going WOT long enough to enjoy the car? A pickup or crossover won’t win medals on the track, but modern ones aren’t terribly slow and you can mash the gas without needing a medivac or lawyer.


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