By on April 4, 2017

2017 Toyota Camry - Image: Toyota

Reaching the end of the line before an all-new 2018 model launches, the outgoing Toyota Camry is — quite predictably — losing sales. After all, the auto industry’s total sales volume is shrinking. Passenger cars, in particular, are paying a price. And the midsize segment is stumbling all the more so. With all these factors contributing, of course the Camry is shedding volume.

Aged, outdated, and antiquated, the Toyota Camry seemingly has the most to lose. Yet despite a 4-percent year-over-year U.S. sales loss in March 2017 and a 13-percent decline through the first-quarter of 2017, the Toyota Camry is gaining heaps of market share in America’s midsize sedan segment, not losing it.

That’s because the cars that are most to blame for the midsize sedan segment’s rapid decline don’t sit at the top of the leaderboard, but rather hail from the JV squad. 


This is the tenth 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.


March 2017 was the 13th consecutive month in which U.S. sales of midsize cars declined on a year-over-year basis. The 22-percent drop was the worst decline since last August. After claiming 14 percent of all new vehicle sales in March 2016, midsize cars claimed just 11 percent of the overall market in the same period this year. And after owning fully one-third of America’s passenger car market in March 2016, the midsize sector’s share of the car market slid to just 29 percent last month.

Yet in this turmoil, the all-conquering Toyota Camry posted a modest 4-percent, 1,343-unit drop in March 2017 and grew its share of its segment to 21.1 percent from 17.0 percent one year ago.

Indeed, even over the course of the entire first quarter of 2017, Camry market share in the midsize category grew to 19.4 percent from 17.7 percent in Q1 2016. The Camry’s relative stability has repercussions, not as keenly felt by podium finishers (Nissan Altima and Honda Accord) as by formerly high-volume midsize cars that are now faced with rapidly disappearing demand.

U.S. midsize car sales market share chart 2016 2017 – Image: © TTAC

The first quarter of 2017’s performance by the Ford Fusion, skewed by heavy fleet emphasis in the first-quarter of 2016, is down 32 percent year-over-year, a loss of more than 24,000 sales.

The fifth-ranked Hyundai Sonata (down 38 percent so far this year, a loss of nearly 24,000 sales) plunged 47 percent to only 15,357 sales in March 2017, the Sonata’s worst March since the doldrums of 2009.

The sixth-ranked Chevrolet Malibu, all-new for 2016, is not even remotely benefiting from its status as the freshest midsize car on the block, nor from the idea that “Real People” confuse the Malibu with Audis and BMWs and celebrate its keyless entry. Malibu volume is nosediving, plunging 36 percent in March and 40 percent so far this year. That’s a loss of more than 23,000 sales compared to the first quarter of 2016. Chevrolet had more than four months of Malibu supply heading into March; 17,000 more Malibus in dealer inventory than Ford had Fusions in stock.

It’s an uncomfortable situation for this trio of high-volume cars that are increasingly not producing such high volume. It’s also disconcerting for cars nearer the bottom of the heap that can’t make headway, either.

March 2017 represented the Kia Optima’s 15th consecutive month of declining sales. The Volkswagen Passat’s 3-percent year-over-year uptick involves a comparison with March 2016, when sales had fallen 22 percent. Compared with the Passat’s five-year March average, sales last month were 30 percent lower in March 2017. The Subaru Legacy and Mazda 6 were jointly down 10 percent last month, a loss of roughly 1,000 sales for a duo that produces only 1 out of every 20 midsize car sales.

While all of this is uncomfortable and disconcerting for some, Toyota is excited to see what the next Camry can do. The Camry will be a segment leader, but will it be strong enough to see more rivals disappear just as the Chrysler 200, Dodge Avenger, Mitsubishi Galant, Pontiac G6, and Suzuki Kizashi already have? Be prepared to see a distinct lack of investment in future midsize sedans as total volume shrinks and the Camry exerts even greater control.

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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53 Comments on “Midsize Sedan Deathwatch #10: In April 2017, Cannibal Camry Feeds as Others Cede...”


  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Not surprised that sedans are dying; they’ve lost all sense of identity for the owner and the taller crossovers are more like the old-school 50s and 60s sedans and wagons that are a lot easier to climb into and out of. In trying to make sedans more sporty and economical, they’ve become little more than hard-riding skateboards that nobody really wants.

    Maybe it’s time to take those extra two doors off of them and turn them back into 2+2 coupes. (Half-doors permitted as long as no outside handles.)

    • 0 avatar
      dwford

      So true. Efforts to boost sales have focused on ever sportier styling, at the loss of read headroom, easy of entry, and smaller trunk openings. It’s no wonder sedan sales are down. Crossovers give people everything they used to be able to get in sedans.

      • 0 avatar
        Dan

        The now ubiquitous terrible rear packaging can’t be laid at the feet of art majors chasing sporty. It’s the engineers chasing mileage.

        Look at the back of a Prius.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Where do you guys come up with this stuff. All the most popular trims of the top selling sedans are on ~55 series tires. Sedans have been as low as they are, if not lower, for decades.

      Sedans aren’t worse; they’ve actually never been better. The problem is purely that crossovers are just that much better aligned to consumer tastes right now.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        I will disagree with you because I hit my head on every sedan I try to sit down into. That didn’t used to be true.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          Might want to try a Camry or Accord then.

          “they’ve become little more than hard-riding skateboards that nobody really wants.”

          Hyperbole much? A Camry LE/XLE rides BETTER than the equivalent Rav4, owing to the engineers not needing to stiffen up the springs as much to account for minimizing roll brought on by the taller center of gravity.

          CUVs are definitely more practical for many consumers and sales figures bear that out, but it’s definitely not because sedans have actively been regressing in terms of ride/NVH as you seem to imply.

  • avatar
    OldManPants

    America now has more short people than ever before, some of them have good credit and they’re smart enough to buy Japanese?

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      “they’re smart enough to buy Japanese?”

      I resisted as long as I could, but in 2008 I switched to Toyota and got away from GM and Ford.

      There was one aberration on my part, my wife’s 2012 Grand Cherokee. She saw it, she wanted it, I bought it.

      But that is in the past. The grand daughter now drives that JGC as her DD.

  • avatar
    MerlinV12

    “Easier to climb into and out of” is something I see a lot of and I can’t imagine it’s even an issue for someone under 60. Is it really so much physical exertion to get in and out of a coupe or sedan? Have we really collectively gotten that physically feeble?

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      No, but the roofline and window rake have make it more difficult to get in and out of a modern sedan.

      Plus, the demographic pig-in-the-python that actually buys cars in quantity is over 60.

    • 0 avatar
      2manycars

      “Is it really so much physical exertion to get in and out of a coupe or sedan?”

      Wait until your joints start creaking and your knees give out and see for yourself. (It doesn’t always take until 60 for that to happen, either.)

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      Sedans are a lot taller than they were 30 years ago.

      I can tell you that my octogenarian mother can get into her LeSabre much more easily than my wife’s Explorer.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        “I can tell you that my octogenarian mother can get into her LeSabre much more easily than my wife’s Explorer.”

        That’s because the LeSabre’s door openings were specifically designed to be taller than most sedans’. They knew their customers. Side benefit, aside from ease of entry, is great 360-degree visibility.

    • 0 avatar
      deanst

      Yes, Americans have gotten that feeble. When even “enthusiasts” complain about the burden of engaging a clutch in busy traffic, power assisted doors and hatches are the biggest selling points, and manual windows are just out of the question, there can be little doubt about the state of fitness in America.

      While the 3 best selling vehicles are largely unremarkable, the common trait is a rear door which permits relatively easy entry. Don’t know why this is so lost on the other manufacturers, trying to promote sexiness in a segment which favours practicality.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        Oh brother. It could also just be that some people don’t want to drive stickshift all the time. I ride a motorcycle, kart, sim race and lift weights. If I want an automatic daily driver, especially to sit in traffic or do a steady 80 in the interstate in, that’s my right. Has nothing to do with feebleness.

      • 0 avatar
        9Exponent

        Being unwilling to do something does not necessarily mean one is not able to do it.

        If your hairshirt makes you feel special, by all means, continue to wear it. Just don’t think of your preference as some sort of virtue.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, no it’s not, but if I have the choice between lunging out of a sedan and gliding out of a CUV, why would I choose a sedan? For the exercise? The smaller carrying capacity? The minute increase in speed and fuel economy? People are choosing CUVs because the represent less and less of sacrifice for the gains in functionality over a sedan.

      • 0 avatar
        9Exponent

        Being unwilling to do something does not necessarily mean one is not able to do it.

        If your hairshirt makes you feel special, by all means, continue to wear it. Just don’t think of your preference as some sort of virtue.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      It’s a bigger deal for people with kids.

      • 0 avatar
        Mandalorian

        That’s just it. As a car guy, sure I think low slung Ferraris/Lamborghinis/McLarens/etc are cool, but as a consumer I vote with my wallet for SUVs.

        When you get into the luxury range, SUV/CUVs are a heck of a lot better value. A Mercedes E-Class or BMW 5-Series decently equipped is at $60k. Fully loaded is pushing $70k. Who can blame people for going after SUVs/CUVs that offer a far better value proposition at a lower or similar price?

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    So if Musk is right, will the Model 3 be the class leader a year from now?

    • 0 avatar
      dash riprock

      Your question is will the 3 sell more than 84,000 units in the US from Jan 1 to March 31. The answer is a resounding no. What gives anybody the confidence that a auto manufacturer with a 2016 production of 85,000 ish vehicles can ramp up that efficiently? Not their history of course.

      BTW….can anyone explain to me why Tesla always has a blow out sales result in the last month of each quarter?

      • 0 avatar
        raffi14

        Tesla doesn’t report monthly sales at all because people read too much into it. A few thousand cars will arrive on a boat in Europe one month, and then the next month they make a bunch of US deliveries, etc. You can’t use deliveries as a proxy for demand like you can with other automakers. They could make the orders much higher easily, like actually take out an ad instead spending zip on marketing.

        • 0 avatar
          dash riprock

          What can people read into? Why does every other auto manufacturer provide such data. Why is transparency so offensive to Tesla?Finally, why does every quarter see this pattern and not just in US sales?

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        @dash: The quarterly Tesla sales blowout may be a consequence of their ever-shifting product portfolio. They’re always adding and subtracting options such as battery capacity, AWD, glass roof, Autopilot, seat colors, and so on.

        Right now, they’re eliminating the 60 kWh Model S, presumably to provide space for the pending Model 3.

  • avatar
    Prado

    While we know that demand is down for the segment, it would be nice to get a clearer picture on what is happening on the supply side for the bigger players in this segment. Will lost Camry production from the Subaru plant come from somewhere else now, or will Toyota just make less? Has Honda been building less Accords and something else in its place, because I always thought Honda had flexible lines, and is in short supply of Pilots and Ridgelines? Does Ford really care about maintaining market share for the Fusion at the expense of high incentives? It is built in Mexico, so I would assume layoffs and production breaks are a lot less costly than if it was a UAW plant.

  • avatar
    Sam Hall

    I think midsize sedans are just outmoded by compact and midsize crossovers. For a gas mileage penalty that’s negligible in money terms for most people, you get much greater versatility. If you don’t need the space of a CUV, there are more interesting and engaging cars out there for the money. If you’re a skinflint who wants max mileage and cheap maintenance, there are compact and subcompact cars that are cheaper to buy and own than a midsize sedan. The midsizers just don’t hit anyone’s sweet spot.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Proves once again that Americans will overpay for stuff that’s in fashion.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Yup, proven time and again.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      How is a CR-V a worse value or any more “fashionable” than a same year Accord?

      When did the B&B become so insular, judgmental and miserable?

      • 0 avatar
        Chocolatedeath

        Dude..you are late..They have been that way since I joined in09

      • 0 avatar
        Guitar man

        The CR-V uses more fuel, is slower, and has more tyre-scrubbing understeering than an Accord.

        Commonly replaced items like tyres and batteries are much more expensive and generally don’t last as long.

        But people seem to think that what is in fact just a station wagon with big wheels is somehow more fashionable.

        • 0 avatar
          sportyaccordy

          Higher tire wear, when the CR-V weighs the same as an Accord and the average CR-V driver is coming nowhere near its dynamic limits? FASTER BATTERY WEAR? Can you ANY proof of these nonsensical claims?

          • 0 avatar
            OldManPants

            “The CR-V..has more tyre-scrubbing understeering than an Accord.”

            That’s even funnier with the British spelling. It somehow adds to the preposterous irrelevance.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    “Aged, outdated, and antiquated”

    In the grand scheme of things, not really. And if Toyota is dealing $4-6k off msrp to clear them out, that’s a screaming bargain for a car that’ll last 10-20 years with minimal care.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Yeah, I became a Toyota convert. And that took some doing!

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      Yup, we had a thread on this topic a few weeks ago.

      If you are poor and need a car, a new or near new Camry is always the answer.

      I don’t care if you have to finance it for 96 months. It will last 15 years, easily with little to no $$ required to keep it running. Same reason why there were so many Pontiacs in the hood’. They were reasonably cheap to buy, cheap to maintain and would run poorly longer than most cars ran at all. The bonus with the Camry, unlike the Pontiac, the power windows will last just as long as the car will!

  • avatar
    fozone

    “Antiquated” ?! Only to people who follow the auto trade closely. The incremental difference in performance between this gen Camry and other mid-sizers is minute to the average person.

    It is an appliance – like a Kitchen Aid mixer – and designed to last roughly as long.

    To clear them out Toyota is putting a bunch of cash on the hood and/or giving people 0% APR on the thing. There is little mystery as to why it is selling.

    If you didn’t give a toss about cars, wouldn’t this look like a good deal to you?

    I also wonder how many sales of the Camry Hybrid are at this point going to Uber drivers with a screaming lease.

    Last week I was shocked to see so many of them prowling the streets of Manhattan. It looked like one of the most popular car sharing rides, next to the Highlander and Avalon Hybrids. Guess that speaks to its low TCO.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Two words about why sedans are tanking: COUPE STYLING.

    Get over yourselves. A COUPE has only TWO doors. A SEDAN has Four. Got it?

    If you can’t easily get in and out of the car, and if you can’t see out of it, this is what you get.

    OEMs, you brought this on yourselves, and if your CUVs get any more bunker-looking, we’ll all be driving pickup trucks. So far, one can still see out of those.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      A sedan can also have two doors. All big cars offered two-door sedan models on their lowest trims through about 1969, and many smaller cars (particularly Japanese models) offered them through about the mid ’80s.

  • avatar
    phila_DLJ

    Chevy’s “Real People, Not Actors” campaign is circling the drain, and yet they keep making more and more ads. I don’t really get it. Does ANYONE like ads with random jamokes that were supposedly scooped up off the streets?

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      I literally loath this ad campaign. My kids hate it, wife too. As a guy with 3 GM vehicles in the garage, I can at least say that my point of view is not tainted by some past horrible ownership experience.

      The ads just suck. I have thought about finding an email for the corporate office and advising of such. Not that my opinion matters to them, as I buy used…

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      Check out the various parodies of those terrible, terrible ads on YouTube. Then send them to the GM marketing team and see what they say.

  • avatar
    quaquaqua

    The Sonata and Optima have had surprising declines, but then again their compact equivalents (Elantra and Forte) are selling better than ever. Go figure.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      C-segment, be it crossovers or sedans, are in the sweet spot of size, content and value.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      The current Elantra is bettered styled than the Sonata and with the Elantra Sport version, is a more fun drive to boot.

      Forte sales has increased due to greater supply and Optima sales have suffered as the current model has taken a step back in sheermetal.

      Probably will see a bump in Sonata sales tho with the refresh (which is an improvement).

  • avatar
    thunderjet

    On the bright side if you’re in the market for a Camry/Accord/Altima/Fusion/Malibu you can get a screaming deal right now.

    • 0 avatar
      ShoogyBee

      This month’s incentives on the 2017 Sonata are unmatched. $3350 bonus cash on the SE, $4000 on the Eco and Sport 2.4, $6000 on the Limited and 2.0T. Plus an additional $750 cash back if you finance through Hyundai at standard APR rates, which hopefully would be competitive with banks and credit unions.

      They’re also offering $6000 cash back on any leftover new 2016 Sonatas, regardless of trim level.

  • avatar
    RobertRyan

    They have morphed into Taxi’s here in Australia , all are hybrids

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    What happened in November 2016 that would impact sales/marketshare of midsize sedans? Discussion is focused on Q1 2017, but both lines sharply reverse trends in November 2016.

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