By on July 5, 2017

2017 Honda Accord Sedan Touring - Image: HondaMidsize car sales volume decreased by nearly 200,000 units in the United States during the first-half of 2017.

Year-over-year, that 18-percent decline was caused by virtually every member of America’s midsize sedan fleet. Escaping unscathed, on its own, was the Volkswagen Passat, though Passat sales are significantly lower than they were in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.

Aside from the Passat, midsize cars are selling much less often this year than last at every competing automaker; from the top-selling Toyota Camry to the slow-selling Mazda 6, from the all-wheel-drive-optional Ford Fusion to the all-wheel-drive-standard Subaru Legacy; from the new-last-year Chevrolet Malibu to the never-again-new Chrysler 200.

Most automakers, however, are blessed to possess similarly priced compact crossovers that are making up all, much, or some of the slack.

This is the thirteenth 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.

Consider the top-selling midsize cars in America and their respective utility vehicle compatriots. At Toyota, the Camry — set to be replaced in the coming weeks by an all-new 2018 model — has maintained its top-selling status in the category despite an 11-percent tumble in the first-half of 2017. Toyota Camry volume declined by 22,864 units compared with the first-half of 2016, but Toyota RAV4 volume grew by 18,866 units.

At Honda, where Accord sales are down 6 percent this year, volume has actually increased in each of the last two months. Honda has seen its total Accord volume fall by 9,263 units in 2017’s first-half, but sales of the new Honda CR-V have increased by 28,181 units.

Like the Camry and Accord, the third-ranked Nissan Altima is also approaching its replacement phase. Altima sales slid 15 percent in 2017’s first-half. The Altima rounded out the podium as the third member of a top trio which declined less rapidly than the segment as a whole. Nissan lost 26,411 Altima sales in the first six months of 2017 but added 46,806 total Rogue sales.2017 Honda CR-V - Image: HondaThe Rogue, CR-V, and RAV4 are all, individually, outselling the Camry, Accord, and Altima. In the first-half of 2017, the top midsize car trio combined for 541,810 sales in the U.S. while the three top-selling utility vehicles (RAV4, CR-V, Escape) produced 480,353 sales. That 61,457-unit margin of victory is now turned on its head. The three top-selling utilities (Rogue, CR-V, RAV4) outsold the three top-selling midsize cars by more than 84,000 units just one year later.

It’s not just the top sellers, of course. Mazda lost 5,454 sales of the 6 but gained 5,466 CX-5 sales. Subaru lost 4,793 Legacy sales but gained 8,867 Outback sales and 7,702 Forester sales.

Car 2017 First Half 2016 First Half YOY % Change Unit Loss/Gain
Ford Fusion 107,225 146,833 -27.0% -39,608
Chevrolet Malibu 83,899 120,325 -30.3% -36,426
Hyundai Sonata 76,315 104,409 -26.9% -28,094
Nissan Altima 146,284 172,695 -15.3% -26,411
Toyota Camry 176,897 199,761 -11.4% -22,864
Chrysler 200 13,722 36,115 -62.0% -22,393
Honda Accord 160,091 169,354 -5.5% -9,263
Mazda 6 18,009 23,463 -23.2% -5,454
Subaru Legacy 25,564 30,357 -15.8% -4,793
Buick Regal 6,482 9,253 -29.9% -2,771
Kia Optima 59,717 61,067 -2.2% -1,350
Volkswagen Passat 35,137 32,813 7.1% +2,324

Losing sales is no automaker’s idea of bliss, but the benefit of cancelling out midsize car sales with utility vehicle sales is significantly higher average transaction prices. A typical compact crossover still requires incentivization — the market is becoming intensely competitive, after all — but the ability to generate profit is far greater. Before consumer incentives, Kelley Blue Book said the compact SUV/crossover segment’s average transaction prices in June 2017 were 13 percent higher than ATPs for midsize cars.

Nevertheless, the Mazda 6, at the bottom of the heap, has earned a designation from Mazda’s North American HQ as a model that wouldn’t be culled. Meanwhile, Toyota believes the new Camry could inspire a midsize sedan life watch.

But June 2017 was the midsize segment’s 16th consecutive month of decline. With barely more than 150,000 sales last month, midsize market share fell to just 10 percent, down from 12 percent a year ago, 14 percent two years ago, and 15 percent in June 2014.

The three top-selling midsize cars, however, grew their share of the midsize car market to 58 percent in June 2017 from 51 percent one year ago and 47 percent two years ago.

[Images: Honda]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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44 Comments on “Midsize Sedan Deathwatch #13: 2017’s Grim First-half 198,000-unit Loss...”

  • avatar

    Do we know how much of this is fleet-based? 3-5 years ago rental lots were nothing but Impalas and Altimas. Now they’re all Escapes, Patriots, Rogues, and Santa Fes.

  • avatar

    Just WOW.

    The saddest part of this is that current Malibu is so much better than the model it replaced.

    The current Regal OTOH… LOL – I didn’t know you could loose 30% of nothing.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam Hell Jr

      Must cause some teeth-gnashing among Chevy dealers that the Impala gets these 20% off MSRP promotions and the Malibus just have to sit there and take it. I know the Malibu is a less-amortized model with smaller margins built in, but sheesh, what would compel anyone to pick the ‘bu right now?

    • 0 avatar

      my three-day rental of the prior generation of Malibu poisoned the well for the Malibu nameplate and pushed Chevy to the middle of the line for SUVs/CUVs.

      Is it fair? No. but it is what it is.

      • 0 avatar


        Same. I had the displeasure of being handed the keys to the previous gen ‘bu several times. It was all pretty awful. The last one I had was just a long list of issues. The midsize segment is too darn competitive to go backward.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, the Malibu decline looks worse than it is. GM has actively reduced fleet sales as the mix (and midsizers are fleet fodder) so the total number looks grim, the retail number isn’t declining off the pace of the industry.

      In contrast the Camry and Fusion have a bit of hidden decline (Fusion in particular) as the blue oval has seriously cranked up fleet sales, and the Camry has been a fleet queen.

      Also worth noting when it comes to cash on the hood, the Malibu has the second lowest factory incentives in class (that includes near-luxury marks). Only the Accord and Passat have lower incentives (no dealer cash) on the hood.

      Did you ever think you’d see the day where a Camry would have $3000 sitting on the hood even with the lowest ATP in the market to begin with?

      Lower ATP, 2X the cash on the hood, dealer discounts, and,” it’s a “Toyota,” are darn hard to compete with. I would rather see shrinking share and growing profits than the other way around. We know very well – it just doesn’t work.

      I would add that the last gen ‘bu was truly awful, and any good will built from the 2008 update was shredded. GM has gotten a fair amount right post-BK, the Malibu isn’t one of those things.

      To be crystal clear, this is not praise or defense, just commentary that the market for midsizers is a bloody red ocean, Chevy really f-ed up the previous gen ‘bu, and the percentage decline is amplified by the active reduction in fleet sales and a decision to not enter the incentive fray.

      • 0 avatar

        Locally I’m seeing a fair number of Premiere badged Sonics and Cruzes but all the Malibus seem to be stripped LS models with perhaps the only option being extra cost paint colors.

        Not good GM, not good.

        I’m interested in seeing the new Regal just for the hatchback and Tour X variants but knowing that it is a bit of a unicorn due to the Opel sale is troubling.

  • avatar

    You may as well just call it “Sedan Deathwatch” as full sizers are doing even worse.

  • avatar

    Like with the minivan segment, the marginal players in the midsize sedan segment will start to drop out, leaving only the high volume sellers. Sergio’s decision to cut the Chrysler 200 and similar sized Dodge Dart is starting to look like genius in hindsight.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The money flow on these has to be interesting.

    Everything is being incentivized in order to bolster sales, but midsize sedans are probably receiving even more money on the hood. I wonder how long the mfrs will tolerate discounting 20%+ on these vehicles, before they just stop producing them.

  • avatar

    For the attributes consumers care about, including ride height/seating position, perceived utility, and cargo capacity, CUV’s really are the ideal choice. Consumers don’t exactly have exacting standards for handling, and gas is too cheap for them to lose sleep about the difference between 30 and 40MPG.

    Yes, a station wagon is a much more space and fuel-efficient package, giving you the handling of a car with the cargo capacity of a CUV, but if your choice is between a sedan and a CUV? If consumers don’t see the value in a station wagon, then they certainly aren’t going to favor a sedan over a CUV.

    I agree with a couple of the other commenters… we are going to see a reduction in the number of models offered, with the CUV choice as extensive as the choices in sedans used to be. I expect a lot of the smaller cars will have their volume shift to hatchbacks, which really are a better choice. (I’ll never understand why the sedan became the prevalent car body style in the US vs. the Hatchback/wagon. It really makes no sense at all.)

    • 0 avatar

      Once a certain saturation level of CUVs/SUVs is reached the remaining sedan holdouts will defect to CUVs, SUVs, and trucks with alarming ease for one simple reason, no one wants to be the only one sitting low to the ground in a sea of people whose headlights are above his/her review mirror. There used to be a stigma against taller cars from people who only drive sedans/coupes that SUVs induce seasickness from its higher CoG, but even my wife who was one of those people is now fine sitting for extended trips in a 3/4 truck.

      You are right that the CUV is the ideal do it all vehicle for most people, you get Town Car like leg room in a puny Rav4 and the thing is easier to park thanks to its Corolla like dimension. The golden period of low sitting sedans(think 90s Camrys or Accords) really only was able to occur in the 80s and 90s as the low hanging fruit to gain MPGs before aerodynamics for taller vehicles caught up.

      • 0 avatar

        someone at Hyundai offer this guy a product development consulting job. Noticed that when I visited Korea—the market was overwhelmingly sedans even at the highest end. Saw lots of S-Classes, equivalent large SUVs.

        The only large “SUV” that I noticed lots of the Sedona. Maybe it’s cultural. Maybe there’s a tax reason. maybe both

      • 0 avatar

        And it’s important to note the wagon was dying long before crossovers took hold for many brands. Only real overlap was with the Corolla and Mazda 6. I think all the rest introduced their CUVs long after killing off their wagons (i.e. Civic -> CRV, Camry -> Highlander, Accord -> Pilot etc.). And I doubt people were leaving their reliable fuel sipping Civics for gas guzzling Explorers and the like.

  • avatar

    13,777 people bought Chrysler 200’s????

  • avatar

    No car offered with a manual transmission lost over 10,000 units! Coincidence? I think not!

  • avatar

    Hopefully this means that midsize sedans will be more niche and enthusiast designed. Perhaps manufacturers will want to save money and have their larger sedans and wagons share their platform with the pony cars. I’d buy what is essentially a four door Camaro or Mustang. Bring back the Chevelle and Falcon!

    • 0 avatar

      Your comment reminds me of City Hall announcing this summer that they wanted people to come down to the City Clerk’s Office and get a $15 permit in order to be able to set off fireworks in the city limits. I said out loud (in an empty car after hearing it on the radio.)

      “Yeah, that will happen.”

  • avatar

    Amazing that the Passat had a slight uptick in sales. Too bad VW isn’t breaking out how many are fixed 2015 Passat TDIs.

  • avatar

    The US car market has forever taught us small is cheap. Big is Expensive. This also tracks the fact your kids will be adult sized at some point and you’ll have to buy a bigger car. The cheap car is noisy and underpowered too-and until Honda and BMW showed up, they got away with it because the big 3 all played.

    The SUV plays this game, but the CUV upends the size equals money.

    OF COURSE most folks will buy the larger car when they have a choice at their money. Add to this the fact that roads are often crap in city areas, and a Nissan Rogue makes way more sense than an Altima. RAV4, or HR-V take over Accord or Corolla.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam Hell Jr

      Recently my wife bought a Forester. It is thoroughly inoffensive in every respect to operate, but I confess it’s nice not having to fuss over every single pothole. Having said that: some fatter tires and a little more suspension travel in the average North American vehicle, crossover or otherwise, would go over well everywhere but on the pages of Motor Trend.

      • 0 avatar

        I went -1 on a past car, from a 235/40 series 17 inch to a 225/50 series 16 inch. On the same roads, my wheels remained round for much, much longer and ultimate grip was about the same.

    • 0 avatar

      “Add to this the fact that roads are often crap in city areas, and a Nissan Rogue makes way more sense than an Altima. RAV4, or HR-V take over Accord or Corolla.”

      How do you figure?

      • 0 avatar

        Ground clearance. If you drive at all in the NYC area, there are occasionally bits that are actively dangerous. A friend lost a mid 70’s Impala Tank when a raised manhole contacted the transmission.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I find the Accord to be impressive down 5.5% in volume and we know that the one lever that Honda never pulls is the rental fleet sale to boost volume. I would be curious to know how bad the others are doing when you remove the fleet sales from the count.

    I spend a lot of time at cruising the National lot and I see a lot of Hyundai, Nissan, and Camry’s. No Toyota SUV save the oddball 4Runner every now and again which I always find to be odd.

  • avatar

    The uptick in Passat sales is understandable given the massive dealer discounts around me for this model. You can currently get a Passat S for cheaper than a base Civic LX, at least in my market. It’s the most boring looking mid-sized (IMO), but for the size, price, and features, I can see the appeal.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I wonder how many people who are long time mid-sized sedan buyers ended up graduating to the entry luxury class. The sales figures on those are fairly stable.
    Crunch the numbers and for a few bucks more per month you’re in a ATS/CTS, C-Class, 3-Series, IS or Q-40.
    The rear seat and trunks are not as commodious as a typical Accord or Camry but for many they are livable. Plus the whole “Keep up with the Jones” or a version of the the Alfred Sloan model of moving up to a more luxurious and prestigious product.

  • avatar

    Will be interesting to see if the impending demise of the Accord V6 will help the overall numbers as they wind the 9th-Gen down.

    Same with the Coupes. We’ll know next Friday what’ll happen with those. (Honda will be taking the wraps off the 10-Gen Accord at 11am EDT.)

  • avatar

    I recently leased a 2017 Accord Base Hybrid. I offered 4600 off sticker and got it, wonder how much more they would have done. Assume Honda is giving the dealers lots of incentive to move them

    A mid size car is great for driving back and forth to work – that’s how I use them. Have a minivan for hauling and road trip duty.

    If one are can only afford /only needs one car, then a compact CUV RAV4/CRV trumps the mid size sedan. More cargo capacity, easier to park, easier to see out of. Can do more things than a mid size sedan, which only has the advantage in handling and freeway driving.

    For me, the upper trim Accords are a bit more upscale vs the CRV. Better ride, quieter on freeway, smoother shape.

    I’ve been a mid-size sedan commuter for 20 years. Probably will stick with it.

  • avatar

    I looking at buying the 2018 Accord if it is a liftback and has an AWD option. Ford is the only mid size sedan that has AWD option. Otherwise, have to to Premiun models.

  • avatar
    George Herbert

    This was literally a decision for my family this week. After my 04 RX-8 finally reached end-of-affordable-repairs 10 days ago ($8k in *parts*?…) we reviewed field and narrowed by sufficient performance and handling and practicality for me (6’4.5″) and my wife (4’11”, sometimes needs wheelchair). Mustang was ok but not enough wheelchair space. She can’t drive a Toyota 86 and wheelchair is Right Out. Up to sporty sedans possibly sports sedans, within budget circled around to Mazda 3 or 6. I preferred 6 she preferred 3, horsetraded her RX-8 as my daily driver and she gets a 2.5l Mazda 3 hatchback. Sporty enough for her not to mind losing her 8 too badly.

    Dollars to Mazda doesn’t make that much of a difference, but the statistics will show one less midsized.

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