By on May 9, 2017

2016 Ford Focus RS

There’s a reason we run Midsized Sedan Deathwatch. North American consumers want space for six dogs, and nothing’s going to stop them from forking over big bucks for cargo volume and a third row. Traditional passenger cars be damned.

Increasingly, it looks like the market has been condemned — it’s down 12 percent over the first four months of this year. But the shrinking market presence isn’t solely the domain of the midsize. Compacts are in trouble, too. Full-size cars? You know the answer. However, if the vehicle in question started out as a conventional grocery getter but piled on the horsepower before leaving the factory, chances are it isn’t hurting.

A good example is the incredibly shrinking Ford Focus, destined for a date with Mexican production and already an afterthought for the powers that be in Dearborn. The Detroit News recently broke down the sales figures for that compact model and found something interesting.

For the first four months of this year, sales of the Focus fell 24.6 percent compared to the same period in 2016. That’s pretty bad, but not shocking. The market is heading in that direction and the Focus hasn’t seen a full redesign since the dawn of this decade. What is interesting is the sales performance of the hotter Focus variants.

Over the same period, sales of the Focus ST and RS grew 25 percent. According to Autodata Corp., the hot Ford Fusion Sport has seen respectable demand, despite the Fusion itself sinking on the sales charts. Are the only desirable cars performance cars?

Perhaps, but dedicated sports cars are also taking a hit. Year-to-date Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger and Chevrolet Camaro sales are all down, so the bright light seems to shine only on sporty variants of an existing model.

As families turn to SUVs and crossovers for most hauling duties, it would make sense for the breadwinner’s commuter car to possess a sporty side. In the case of a sportier Focus, the added performance comes at a price, but buyers don’t seem to care. The same report cites Focus ST and RS owners’ average household income of $108,000 and $169,000, far and away higher than the income of a regular Focus buyer ($63,000).

Over at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, it’s the same story. While Dodge Charger sales slumped 18.6 percent over the first four months of this year, performance variants like the SRT Hellcat remain popular. Performance variants might not save a threatened model, but it does seem they can prolong a lifespan. Purely from a marketing perspective, having a hotter trim to wave in front of the entire lineup is always a good thing.

Across the Pacific, other automakers are tapping into this thinking in a bid to broaden a model’s appeal. The Honda Civic Type R will arrive soon with 307 horsepower, while Hyundai decided its Elantra sedan is in dire need of turbocharging. Even Nissan has joined the fray, transforming its compact sedan into the Sentra SR Turbo and Sentra NISMO.

North Americans might not have much time for regular cars, but they still like chirping the tires.

[Image: Ford]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

52 Comments on “Regular Passenger Cars Are Tanking As Performance Variants Hold Their Own...”


  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    This is exactly right. I have a G37 sedan, my wife will be getting a crossover soon. If I had to get another mainstreamer it would definitely be a sporty trim (Elantra Sport, GTI, Camry XSE V6).

    I’ve been saying it for some time now but the sedan is the new coupe.

    • 0 avatar
      S197GT

      Had my wife on board to trade-in (or sell) our 180K-mile E90 for an Elantra Sport till we found out no power seats; not even as an option. Off the list.

      Maybe next year? Actually, what she wants to do is just drive the CX-9 full time and sell the Bimmer before something major goes wrong.

      So, one less new sedan being sold!

      • 0 avatar
        tallguy130

        You should still test drive an Elantra Sport. I miss the power seats but it’s a blast otherwise and super cheap.

        • 0 avatar
          nels0300

          I second that.

          Different strokes for different folks and all that, but geez, power seats have to be one of the most frivolous features you can get on a car, right up there with power tilting steering columns.

          A heavy electric motor under the seats all so you don’t have to reach down and pull a lever? I could maybe see it if you had to adjust your seat all the time, but who does that?

          You can buy this car LOADED with a manual transmission for around $20K. Yeah, no power seats, but heated leather seats, sunroof, xenon lights, Android auto, apple car play, and I’ll repeat, all of this can be had combined with a manual transmission, who else offers that for $20K? If they had to leave anything out, they absolutely picked the right feature, power seats.

          • 0 avatar
            tallguy130

            Or $17.5 if you go on the last day of the month! Seriously, show me a better bang for your buck deal. It ain’t perfect but I got my money’s worth.

          • 0 avatar
            nels0300

            Yup, $17.5K for the “base” model.

            Man, people are picky.

            It offers MUCH more than one could reasonably expect for ~$20K. It ticks all of the enthusiast boxes for an affordable, practical, fun car.

            Manuals are dying, and a well optioned, affordable, manual transmission car is a unicorn. We really shouldn’t be complaining about power seats IMO.

          • 0 avatar
            Mandalorian

            Dealer around here was running a $17k special on leftover 2016 Buick Veranos a little while back. Not to bad for less than the price of a Corolla/Civic.

  • avatar
    nucciop

    Kind of makes me wish for $6/gallon gas. These people will never learn. All I see when driving around are these pumped up, hulking boxes on wheels. Some are taller than they’re wide and look as though they’re going to tip over. The drivers are ridiculously macho, usually texting and doing stupid stuff. I drive in Italy a lot, and it’s so much better. There’s lane discipline, and the prevalence of stick shifts means that people actually concentrate on their driving. And expensive fuel means they still drive reasonably sized vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      Project insecurities much?

      I enjoy all forms of transportation. But if I’m going to choose between a Fiesta or a 300C, IDGAF if gas is back at $3/gallon, I can afford a nicer on the road experience. That or I’m getting a Fiesta ST and will burn through the gas just as fast.

    • 0 avatar
      Car Guy

      Right, because I never see people doing stupid things when I drive in Europe. People are people and will drive recklessly, text, talk on the cell phone, no matter where you are. I’ve seen it all the time in the UK and France just like here. And you are pulling statements out your arse if you think it would change if everyone drove small cars.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Maybe you should move to Italy.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Jalopnik is that way —>

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “these pumped up, hulking boxes on wheels” will still be best-sellers when gas is $6/gallon, just as they were when gas was $4/gallon.

      Pick a higher price. $8 won’t do it, and I doubt $10.

      Americans will pay *anything* for a gallon of gas, as well as “these pumped up, hulking boxes on wheels”.

      • 0 avatar
        RobertRyan

        @SCE to AUX
        Literally almost the last Commodore built was this 635hp”pumped up hulking box on wheels”
        http://www.drive.com.au/new-car-reviews/2017-hsv-gtsr-w1-first-drive-review-20170127-gu04eh.html

    • 0 avatar
      newenthusiast

      The false equivalency in your argument is assuming that the infrastructure, vehicle taxes, and cultural sense of ‘personal space’ are the same in Italy and the US, and that only less expensive gas is why Americans choose larger vehicles.

      For a segment of the population, a gas spike would absolutely be a concern.

      But for many, myself included, comfort while driving long distances for myself and my passengers, how much stuff I may need to bring on long trips, insurance rates, and long term durability/reliability all are far more important than the cost of gas. In fact, gas prices aren’t part of the equation, because they would have to rise to the level where it was cheaper to buy airline tickets than drive before I’d even consider changing my vehicle.

      Also, who decides what a ‘reasonable’ size of anything is? Pretty subjective term.

  • avatar
    ACCvsBig10

    Simple just add awd to all midsize and compact cars and give a ratio of 1hp for every $100 spent

    20000 = 200hp
    25000 = 250hp
    30000 = 300hp and so on…..

  • avatar
    turbo_awd

    Seems pretty simple to me:
    Customer: No, not really interested in a Focus, even with a huge discount – too old, etc.
    Dealer: I can get you a deal on an ST that’s barely more than a regular Focus
    Customer: I’m listening…

    IOW, it’s not so much that the performance variants are keeping it alive, it’s that towards the end of the model run, the discounts are so steep that the performance variants become more accessible.. I’ve heard of STs going for ~$20k. At that price, I’m listening (assuming everything else makes sense), over a $18-19k regular Focus. When they wanted $27k for an ST, not so much..

    Also see Charger Daytona 392s going for under $40k.

    • 0 avatar
      djsyndrome

      The vast majority of non-ST/RS Foci are automatics. The ST and RS are manual only. Many people buying a regular Focus literally /cannot/ upgrade, as they can’t drive stick (and still more won’t due to traffic, etc.)

      I get your analogy, but the upgrade for someone stretching their payment beyond a Focus is going to be into a Fusion or Escape, not a hotter Focus.

  • avatar
    deanst

    Percentage changes are interesting, but if you’re only selling a few thousand of the sporty version, a 25% increase is largely meaningless.

    Even at depressed levels, Toyota sells more beige Camrys in a few days than these things sell in a month.

    • 0 avatar
      DarronS

      Citing percentage changes is meaningless without giving actual numbers. Aa you mentioned, deanst, a large percentage increase of a small number is irrelevant in the overall picture. This article needs a rewrite with actual data.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        DarronS, I read this article as being based on a generality, not specifics.

        Often we cannot quantify trends, especially at the onset, like in social media.

        The examples given for the Focus sales illustrate what is being communicated here.

  • avatar
    dougjp

    So true, yet some manufacturers, especially GM, just don’t get it.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Well sadly without the main stream cars you will have no hot engine choices to choose from, I think mid size cars are fighting a uphill battle but the market has to take some chances, it seems they all look alike, say what you want about CUV but most folks know a Kia Sol looks different from a Juke.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Often those ‘hot’ engines don’t get the same fuel economy as the timid versions do.

      On the one hand we have CAFE and EPA mandates forced on us by the US gov’t, and in the real world we have car enthusiasts who want a little pizzazz in their rides.

      The two will never meet or intersect. If they were to built excitement into a twin-turbo’d Deux Chevaux, Citroen would have done it decades ago.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    However, if the vehicle in question started out as a conventional grocery getter but piled on the horsepower before leaving the factory, chances are it isn’t hurting.

    Well there you go. Memo to GM, just give us turbo-V6 versions of the Impala and Lacrosse and watch sales take off!

    I guess this also means the Regal Sportback GS V6 will sell well compared to the turbo-4 version?

  • avatar
    JimZ

    “Focus hasn’t seen a full redesign since the dawn of this decade.”

    it was all new for 2012 and had a mid-cycle refresh for 2015? What is it with people who seem to expect cars to be completely redesigned every couple of years?

    • 0 avatar
      deanst

      I often wonder why some cars get completely redesigned to offer very little more than the previous edition. Seems like a good refresh along with a price cut (giving the consumer the savings from no new model) would often be a better proposition for all.

      That being said, the focus is probably the oldest volume model in its class, and is behind the times in terms of room, efficiency and reliability – all critical in this class.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      “Focus hasn’t seen a full redesign since the dawn of this decade.”

      Well, technically that statement is correct since the new decade started in 2011.

    • 0 avatar
      djsyndrome

      Because we like shiny things!

      The Focus went into production in late 2010, so it’s nearly seven years old. Ford like to keep its models on sale a little longer than the Japanese/Korean competition (remember how we never got the Mk2 Focus in NA, but a reskinned Mk1?), but they’re usually no worse than the Germans, which usually go seven to eight years with a substantial refresh in the middle.

      • 0 avatar
        Higheriq

        Ford puts it’s redesign money with more frequent updates on the vehicles which have a higher sell rate and which are more profitable (F-150, Escape, Mustang), and the models which sell at slower rates (Focus, Taurus, Flex) get the leftovers and less re-design $$. Does it make sense to do it another way?

  • avatar
    scott25

    Conventional car buyers can easily be sold on a crossover or truck for the right price, but performance buyers know what they want and nothing will change that.

    Also people generally want more convenience and practicality nowadays without sacrificing performance, hence why the sports coupes aren’t selling.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    Where’s the data?

    How about some actual numbers?

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    Is this just another sign that the middle class is hurting with minimal confidence in “the system”?
    A CUV doesn’t cost much more than a car but is more versatile. “Regular” passenger cars are probably seen as a waste of money considering what you get. The “performance” variant is seen as a bargain and a tolerable compromise when compared to sport/muscle car.

  • avatar
    carguy

    No surprise.

    When the SUV craze stared there was a penalty to pay in terms of handling, NVH, economy and performance when you chose an SUV over a sedan.

    Now when you’re choosing between a sedan and a CUV (such as Accord vs CR-V) these difference have all but evaporated. One of the remaining reasons to choose a car over a good CUV is that the car probably has a performance variant that you can’t get in the CUV.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Seating height in a car is at a disadvantage with SUVs and CUVs all around, in traffic, and even on the big road.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Interesting take. You might be onto something here. Previously a typical family would have two midsize cars. Now that they have switched to a SUV or CUV and lost all the fun car-ness they want their second vehicle to make up for it. Thus they pick a more sporty option for that second car.

  • avatar
    tresmonos

    OH THE HAND WRINGING. WOE IS US! WE ARE THE SMARTEST OF THEM ALL AND THE WORLD IS SO STUPID! BUY THE MANUAL BROWN WAGON A AND B CARS- BUY THEM ALL!

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      I just buy pickups so I’m not too concerned one way or the other.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        Same here. And I’ve learned to keep 4 car lengths distance or I’ll have some up tight sexually frustrated idiot throw their lunch at my truck because they find it aggressive in nature.

        If I get 18 mpg on a 5.0 V8, I must drive like a grandpa.

        I do want a big 4ss RWD cruiser however. I can drive it when I’m not hauling kayaks bikes or a boat but that’s a luxury cost I’m not ready for yet.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          I find the same thing. Big cities are bad for tailgating or whining about trucks.
          I’d like to get a motorcycle again as a secondary vehicle but my wife spends money like a drunken sailor on shore leave.

  • avatar
    RS

    Maybe the move to small trunk lids killed sedans.

    It’s better to have a hatch like a CUV/SUV.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Several things are killing sedans:

      1. The aging population has grown weary of low seats and low trunks.
      2. Americans are growing wider and taller, and the rear seats on most sedans are a joke.
      3. AWD is a ‘requirement’ because you’ll die without it, even in a drizzle.
      4. Attractive leasing terms promote migration toward more expensive, larger vehicles.
      5. Cheap gas means that people don’t see a meaningful difference between 22 and 30 mpg.

  • avatar
    nvinen

    I think fashion plays a far bigger role than most of those five points.

    Anyway, liking AWD doesn’t necessary mean you want to buy a CUV. I like AWD but am not interested in CUVs. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of reliable AWD sedans I can afford.

  • avatar
    mikehgl

    When I bought my FoST in December, I went to the dealership with *0* interest in a conventional Focus. The only reason I was interested in the platform at all was for the performance edition. All the reasons above mentioned played a role in that decision. I wouldn’t even have bothered looking at a car at all if I couldn’t get a hatchback with some zing to it. Otherwise…probably would have bought a truck. And- bonus – fold the rear seats flat and my bike fits back there pretty easily. Sure do enjoy rowing my Foci. Lets hope that the continued interest in performance versions of conventional vehicles will help keep the manual tranny from becoming extinct.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • Lie2me: Walmart will miss you :(
  • sgeffe: And wait until you get around to the front, where the sabre-toothed woodchuck grille awaits! Of course this...
  • teddyc73: Juicy? Really? Time to retire that word before it becomes as overused as “iconic”.
  • teddyc73: I’m going to do both…not wear a mask AND not buy this car.
  • teddyc73: *huh*?

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Matthew Guy
  • Timothy Cain
  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Chris Tonn
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber