These 16 Cars Are Bucking America's Anti-Car Trend in 2017

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
these 16 cars are bucking americas anti car trend in 2017

Through the first eight months of 2017, consumers across America have acquired 12 percent fewer new passenger cars than during the first eight months of 2016.

That’s a drop of 565,000 sales, a rate of decline that stands in stark contrast to the U.S. auto industry’s 4-percent year-over-year light truck improvement. Cars now account for just 37 percent of all auto sales, down from more than 50 percent as recently as 2012. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Some auto brands are selling more cars this year than last, and a wide variety of cars are accelerating their sales pace. Subaru, for example, has already sold 17,981 more Imprezas in 2017 than in the same period of 2016.

So we’ve compiled a list of every passenger car that’s making meaningful headway in America’s anti-car market — the cars that are selling more and more often even as many of their competitors suffer under the weight of a pro-F150, pro-RAV4, pro-Escalade ESV wave.

The list is not very long.

For the Subaru Impreza, or any newly launched model, year-over-year tallies are often aided by the fact that sales had tapered off in the prior year as customers waited for the launch of a new model. Indeed, Impreza sales slowed 17 percent in 2016 in advance of the current model’s arrival. Nevertheless, Subaru is on track to more than meet historic Impreza demand levels. Not including the WRX/STI offshoots, the Impreza sedan and hatch are on track for nearly 85,000 sales in 2017, well ahead of historic rates.

The Volkswagen Golf, meanwhile, is reaping the benefits of a fast-growing SportWagen/Alltrack variant. Golf hatchback sales are up, but only by 2 percent. Yet with the Alltrack bolstering the SportWagen, wagons now account for 41 percent of U.S. Golf sales, up from 21 percent a year ago.

Premium nameplates account for more than one-quarter of the cars on the list. In the case of the Audi A4, sales of Audi’s 3 Series challenger are on track for to rise to a post-recession high. The Mercedes-Benz E-Class, on the other hand, is simply recovering from a particularly low stretch — E-Class sales in 2017 are still on track to be 30 percent lower than they were three years ago.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Mitsubishi Mirage is up 5 percent, helped by the launch of a blisteringly hot and spicy Mirage G4 sedan. 2017 is set to be the fourth consecutive year of Mirage sales growth.

But it’s at the top of the heap where a 96-percent year-over-year improvement allows Audi’s expanded, second-generation A5 lineup to earn Most Improved credentials. After falling to an eight-year low at the end of the first-gen A5’s tenure in 2016, Audi has already reported more A5 sales in 2017’s first eight months than in all of 2016. Over the last four months, May through August, A5 Coupe/Cabriolet/Sportback sales have nearly tripled. If that rate of growth continues in the final third of 2017, this year will match 2013 as the A5 lineup’s best year ever.

That doesn’t sound like doom and gloom, at least not for this small group of cars flying directly into blustery headwinds.

Car2017 8 Months2016 8 Months% ChangeReal Volume AddedAudi A511,5975,92695.7%+5,671Subaru Impreza58,26540,28444.6%+17,981Volkswagen Golf49,79136,51336.4%+13,278Mazda MX-5 Miata8,8717,08825.2%+1,783Nissan Leaf9,6857,92222.3%+1,763Toyota Corolla iM/Scion iM14,31312,07918.5%+2,234Volkswagen Beetle11,4049,82016.1%+1,584Toyota Yaris iA/Scion iA25,47221,94916.1%+3,523Kia Forte81,46171,35214.2%+10,109BMW 4 Series26,62923,74712.1%+2,882Audi A422,66720,49610.6%+2,171Chevrolet Cruze133,966122,7969.1%+11,170Mercedes-Benz C-Class52,75549,7346.1%+3,021Mercedes-Benz E-Class31,06829,3265.9%+1,742Mitsubishi Mirage16,80415,9945.1%+810Dodge Challenger47,49645,4434.5%+2,053

For the purposes of this list, with sales info sourced from automakers and more detailed figures from the Automotive News Data Center, we sought out cars with meaningful volume of at least 1,000 U.S. sales per month (thereby excluding low-volume models more prone to sharp year-over-year percentage swings). We also excluded any models that weren’t on sale throughout the first eight months of 2016, vehicles that would obviously report much higher sales this year than last. 16 cars remained.

[Images: Subaru, Audi, Volkswagen]

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

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6 of 26 comments
  • APaGttH APaGttH on Sep 20, 2017

    How much of Corolla/Yaris growth is due to the death of Scion and the combining of Yaris/iA and Corolla/iM numbers in this model year.

    • See 1 previous
    • VW4motion VW4motion on Sep 20, 2017

      @stuntmonkey I'm not a Corolla driver and probably never will be. But , it is a nice looking sedan and they hold there value. In my area 5 yo ones with 100k are still going for $9-10k

  • Freddie Freddie on Sep 20, 2017

    At some point we need to update the vocabulary. I usually say "There's Bob's car", not "There's Bob's SUV" or "There's Bob's crossover". Maybe the what we now call a CUV is the new "sedan", while the traditional sedan is a lower, sportier sedan, a "sport sedan".

    • See 1 previous
    • DweezilSFV DweezilSFV on Sep 21, 2017

      @Lorenzo + 1000, Lorenzo. Add in stupidly wide and tall consoles and the ever growing A & B pillars, lack of outward visibility and it's no wonder "sedans are dying off".

  • MaintenanceCosts We hear endlessly from the usual suspects about the scenarios where EVs don't work as well as gas cars. We never hear the opposite side of the coin. From an EV owner (since 2019) who has a second EV reserved, here are a few points the "I road trip 1000 miles every day" crowd won't tell you about:[list][*]When you have a convenient charging situation, EV fueling is more convenient than a gas car. There is no stopping at gas stations and you start every day with a full tank.[/*][*]Where there are no-idling rules (school pickup/dropoff, lines for ferries or services, city loading, whatever else) you can keep warm or cool to your heart's content in your EV.[/*][*]In the cold, EVs will give you heat from the second you turn them on.[/*][*]EVs don't care one bit if you use them for tons of very short trips. Their mechanicals don't need to boil off condensation. (Just tonight, I used my EV to drive six blocks, because it was 31 degrees and raining, and walking would have been unpleasant.)[/*][*]EVs don't stink and don't make you breathe carcinogens on cold start.[/*][*]EV maintenance is much less frequent and much cheaper, eliminating almost all items having to do with engine, transmission, or brakes in a gas car. In most EVs the maintenance schedule consists of battery coolant changes and tire maintenance.[/*][*]You can accelerate fast in EVs without noisily attracting the attention of the cops and every passerby on the street.[/*][/list]
  • MaintenanceCosts Still can't get a RAV4 Prime for love or money. Availability of normal hybrid RAV4s and Highlanders is only slightly better. At least around here I think Toyota could sell twice the number of vehicles that they are actually bringing in at the moment.
  • Tree Trunk Been in the market for a new Highlander Hybrid, it is sold out with order time of 6 months plus. Probably would have bit the bullet if it was not for the dealers the refuse to take an order but instead want to sell from allotment whether it fits or not and at thousands over MRSP.
  • AKHusky The expense argument is nonsense. My mach e was $42k after tax credit. Basically the same as similarly equipped edge. And it completely ignores that the best selling vehicles are Rams, F150s, and Silverados, all more expensive that a bolt, MAch e or ID4. As an owner, I'd say they are still in second car territory for most places in the country.
  • Johnster I live in a red state and I see quite a few EVs being purchased by conservative, upper-class Republicans (many of them Trump-supporters). I suspect that it is a way for them to flaunt their wealth and that, over time, the preference for EVs will trickle down to less well-off Republicans.