Midsize Sedan Deathwatch #11: Blame Midsize Cars For America's Passenger Car Decline
Why did America’s passenger car market tumble 11 percent in April 2017?
Midsize cars deserve much of the blame.
Why is America’s passenger car market down 12 percent through the first four months of 2017?
Midsize cars deserve most of the blame.
This is the eleventh 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.
There’s no denying that cars, in the sector-wide sense, are truly struggling. Not only did America’s best-selling car, the Toyota Camry, report declining year-over-year volume in April 2017, so too did its top-selling small car alternatives, the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.
Moreover, through the first one-third of 2017, outside of the midsize sedan segment, U.S. sales of passenger cars are down by more than 133,000 units this year, an 8-percent drop compared with the same period in 2016.
Yet the bulk of the U.S. passenger car market’s decline in 2017 can be traced back to the midsize car segment. Sales of the Toyota Camry-led category are down 20 percent this year, a loss of nearly 144,000 sales for one category alone.
In other words, roughly a dozen nameplates have seen sales fall by nearly 144,000 units over the course of only four months while sales of some twelve dozen other cars suffered a combined sales decline of approximately 133,000 sales during the same period.
Virtually every midsize sedan shares part of the blame. Only the Volkswagen Passat, sales of which grew 24 percent in the first four months of 2017, stands out in a pack of midsize malaise.
Of course, Passat sales are down 10 percent compared with the first four months of 2015, prior to the eruption of Volkswagen’s diesel emissions scandal.
You could argue that one discontinued model is skewing the overall results, though the very fact that the Chrysler 200 is disappearing is evidence supporting TTAC’s contention that more midsize cars will disappear. Chrysler 200 sales are down 57 percent so far this year. But remember, by this time last year the 200 had already become a low-volume midsize player.
The Chrysler’s 57-percent decrease in early 2017 translates to only 12,641 lost sales. Meanwhile, the Nissan Altima has already seen sales plunge by 19,568 units this year. The Toyota Camry’s year-to-date volume is down by more than 15,000 units. Honda Accord sales are off by nearly 12,000 units. And those are the highly successful midsize cars.
The Ford Fusion is losing an average of 7,000 sales per month. The Chevrolet Malibu, all-new last year, the freshest midsize car on the dealer forecourt, only a few months ago offering evidence that a new design could produce growth, is losing 6,900 sales per month. The Hyundai Sonata, which produced a modest sales increase in April, still managed to produce 22,505 fewer sales in 2017’s first four months than in the same period of 2016.
The solution: new cars. The new Toyota Camry is only one month away from the first media drives. The new Honda Accord has already been spotted. A new Nissan Altima is due later this year.
But those are already the most popular passenger car nameplates in the midsize sector. They’re already gaining market share in old age.
Fresh iterations of the most dominant midsize cars in America isn’t going to make life any easier for midpack and lower-tier players.
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