By on October 4, 2017

2018 Toyota Camry and 2018 Honda Civic - Images: Honda And ToyotaIn many ways, September 2017’s auto sales bucked the trend. After the industry combined for decreased volume, year-over-year, in each of 2017’s first eight months, auto sales in September rose 6 percent. Meanwhile, the shrinking car sector that tumbled 12 percent through the first two-thirds of 2017 was down only 3 percent in September.

There were two big reason the passenger car decline wasn’t worse: America’s two best-selling cars.

Excluding the Honda Civic and Toyota Camry, U.S. car sales fell 6 percent. But as the clear-out of remaining 2017 Honda Accords got underway and produced 10-percent growth, the launch of the 2018 Toyota Camry generated a 13-percent uptick. Meanwhile, the Honda Civic’s 26-percent surge allowed the compact Honda to expand its lead over the midsize Camry in the race to end 2017 as America’s best-selling car.

The Camry’s reign as America’s most popular passenger car began in 2002 and has gone uninterrupted since. At the current pace, however, the Camry’s 15-year run is set to end in 2017. The Civic’s 1,153-unit lead over the Camry through the end of August grew to 1,873 units by the end of September thanks to a 35,452-unit performance by American Honda last month.

That big Civic jump also drove the compact sedan/coupe/hatch to the top of Honda’s leaderboard, not just in September but on year-to-date terms. Slightly short supply of the in-demand CR-V produced a 3-percent downturn for Honda’s (former) best-selling model, opening up a slot at the top of the heap.

The Civic’s big improvement was also accompanied by a one-fifth loss of Fit sales, equal to roughly 1,000 fewer Fits sold in September 2017 than in the same period one year ago. Overall Honda car sales still rose 15 percent, the biggest car improvement of any major brand. Aside from niche premium outlets, only Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Kia, Toyota, and Volkswagen reported passenger car increases in September.

With rising Honda and Toyota car sales come decreased car market share at the traditional Detroit Three. Only five of this year’s 20 best-selling cars hail from Detroit brands, which saw their collective share of the September car results fall to 26 percent from 28 percent in September 2016.

As for the Civic and Camry, which together account for 12 percent of America’s car market, Automotive News says Honda claims the imported-from-Britain Civic hatchback accounts for 23 percent of year-to-date Civic volume, with imported-from-Japan Camrys accounting for one-quarter of the Camry’s September total.

Rank Car 2017 9 Months 2016 9 Months % Change
#1 Honda Civic 284,380 283,783 0.2%
#2 Toyota Camry 282,507 297,455 -5.0%
#3 Toyota Corolla 265,273 289,004 -8.2%
#4 Honda Accord 250,802 258,619 -3.0%
#5 Nissan Altima 199,861 242,321 -17.5%
#6 Nissan Sentra 165,711 169,476 -2.2%
#7 Ford Fusion 159,742 210,462 -24.1%
#8 Chevrolet Cruze 149,234 138,012 8.1%
#9 Hyundai Elantra 143,067 157,050 -8.9%
#10 Chevrolet Malibu 141,162 170,389 -17.2%
#11 Ford Focus 123,827 140,049 -11.6%
#12 Hyundai Sonata 107,718 155,279 -30.6%
#13 Kia Forte 92,092 79,608 15.7%
#14 Volkswagen Jetta 90,995 89,748 1.4%
#15 Kia Soul 90,727 107,823 -15.9%
#16 Subaru Impreza & WRX/STI 88,745 70,241 26.3%
#17 Kia Optima 84,704 89,327 -5.2%
#18 Nissan Versa 82,817 106,455 -22.2%
#19 Dodge Charger 67,378 72,270 -6.8%
#20 Toyota Prius & Prius Prime 65,967 78,427 -15.9%

Correction: a previous edition of this list featured the Toyota Highlander rather than the Toyota Prius.

[Image: Toyota, Honda]

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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31 Comments on “Camry Crusher: Honda Civic Expands Lead as America’s Best-selling Car...”

  • avatar

    They keep selling Civics because they are so darn ugly..

    • 0 avatar

      They keep selling Civics partly because they’re not “compact.” In everything but reputation, they’re a midsize car.

      Look at #1 Civic, #3 Corolla and #6 Sentra (a putrid car by any other measure). What they have in common, by historical compact-car standards, is oodles of rear legroom.

      The death of the midsize sedan is greatly exaggerated. What’s dying are midsize and full-size sedans that have high prices but lack luxury nameplates.

      • 0 avatar

        Interesting point. I have been thinking, why do I need an Accord when the Civic does what I need, and more for me than the Accord as a hatchback.

        I have 3 great choices from Honda. The new Civic HB, CR-V or Accord to replace my current Accord or Mazda3.

  • avatar

    Let’s add that when you look at only retail sales the lead is much wider.

  • avatar

    “There were two big reason the passenger car decline wasn’t worse”

    Another reason was the need for replacing the cars lost in the recent Hurricanes and Flood.

  • avatar

    What’s the Highlander doing in that list of cars?

  • avatar

    I guess beauty IS in the eyes of the beholder, how else can you explain the explosion of Civic sales. Here in So Fla, they’re all over the place.

  • avatar

    Is this the top 20 ugliest new cars?

    • 0 avatar

      In the current environment, the only thing required to stand out as not ugly, is a greenhouse. Both Civic and Camry has, by today’s standards, decent height greenhouses.

      I honestly don’t find either of them ugly. They’re obviously styled with a primary focus of maximizing interior volume, so they’re not ever going to compete with an Aston Martin for pure looks. But within their constraints, I don’t find them ugly at all.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t mean the overall shapes. The shapes are okay. The devil is in the details, and holy crap look at those details. Honda went well out of their way to tack-on ugliness to an otherwise fine shape.

        • 0 avatar

          Indeed, from that perfect side view, both of them actually look pretty good. But any angle that includes the nose or tail, oh Dear God!

          Though I can’t forgive ANY car that looks like it should be a proper Saab-style 5dr liftback but instead is a useless sedan.

  • avatar

    23% of sales are the hatch? What? I’m skimming at work, clearly I missed something.

  • avatar

    I wonder if the 2017 Fusion being 100% built in Mexico has been a contributing factor to the 24% loss in sales.

    • 0 avatar

      More likely it’s because it’s substantially unchanged since introduction in 2013. Most of the losses appear to be in the regular gas models. Hybrid and Energi models gaining sales year over year.3

      I think Ford also hurts itself the way it does packaging. The Japanese trim levels are very simple and regular. Try building a Ford on their website and you’ll pull your hair out trying to get what you want, and end up buying a $40k Fusion. Nobody wants a $40k Fusion.

      • 0 avatar

        Have to disagree about the Fusion packaging. The Fusion is easy to package, and I bought a 2016 Fusion with the biggest motor & NAV for about $8000 less than a comparable Camry. I will say there have been quality issues since it was introduced in 2013, and those issues are much less every new model year, but Japanese buyers aren’t going to put up with that. Lucky for me, mine has been problem free, and the money saved is a bonus.

        I think Ford is going the wrong direction and should be making more reliable vehicles as well as retiring debt as stockholders have been asking for years. Electric vehicles will be a disaster if they have the usual ‘Ford quality’ that scares buyers away.

    • 0 avatar

      The fusion problem is long term reliability and no rear seat head room. Even if Ford fixed the Fusion reliability tomorrow morning, it will take several years for public to take notice and buy more Fusions. Reliability is a long term game.

    • 0 avatar

      Nobody who isn’t on this website or isn’t a UAW member knows or cares where the Fusion is built.

      The Fusion is getting old, has a horrible back seat, and in the Hybrid version a tiny trunk.

  • avatar

    Actually, for the under 35 crowd, Civic is the king of cool. That is why it is doing so well.

    The Civic is just cooler than the Camry. As the under 35 crowd continues to advance in their careers, I expect more Civics will be sold, as long as Honda does not screw it up.

    Remember, before 2016, the Pilot was the coolest vehicle in it’s class. Then came the 2016 redesign. Now, the Pilot sales are sliding. So, Honda, do not screw up the Civic like you screwed up the Pilot.

  • avatar

    Nice reliability ratings on the new Civic from CR. Down in the FCA, Powershift, VAG zone.

  • avatar

    Price, price, price followed by perceived value. The Camry has all, but in today’s income climate, the Civic is edging the Camry.

  • avatar
    Sammy B

    There’s absolutely no way Toyota will allow the Civic to win. Not only would it be huge media for them to be dethroned, but to happen right as they launched the new 2018 Camry? No way. They’ll almost certainly play some games and crank the volume in November/December. Rental/fleet sales and super cheap leases will abound. If the gap was 5000 or 10,000, maybe they wouldn’t do it. But to lose over maybe 2000-3000 units? Heads would roll. They goosed the volume Tundras when they wanted to meet their 100,000 first year sales goal. They’ll do it again now.

    2018, though, is likely going Honda’s way

  • avatar

    I think the design of the Civic captures what the general population founds attractive these days–bold sweeping lines and sharp creases. Look at the mk6 vs mk7 GTI. The mk6 had very subtle lines and was more rounded, but the mk7 looks like it was designed using only straightedges.

    The Civic dialed it up to 11, added a fastback-like design (if the suspension was any higher it’d look like the Crosstour from a few years back), and creased the shit out of every conceivable surface.

    It looks cool. It looks futuristic. It’s what sells car these days. Toyota C-HR? Totally this.

  • avatar

    The Civic gets way too much hate from people that don’t have significant seat time in a new one. Spend a few days in a Civic vs. most of the other similar choices out there, and get back to me.

    We have two Civics as our primary daily drivers. Sedan EX-T and Hatch LX. I tried to get the hatch in a stick, but none were available in my region for months, except for a few with the center exhaust that precluded me having a hitch for a bike rack.

    I don’t know why people are surprised the Civic is selling well. When you drive a turbo Civic against competitors in the same price range, it’s pretty obvious. We paid something like high $17k’s for the hatch, and around $21k for the sedan. Nothing else I drove in the teens or $20k price range came close as an overall value.

    The turbo gives it enough pep to be half ways interesting, whereas most econo competitors feel slow by comparison. Honda resale is good. Honda reliability, with the exception of the odd teething glitch here and there, is above average. Looks? I don’t really care. I’m not 18 any more, where I care what other people thing of my car’s aesthetics. We’re both averaging around 40 mpg combined on regular gas. The CVT is remarkably invisible on the turbo Civics. Yeah, the hatch is odd looking. But the rest of the car is good enough to where it’s not a big deal.

    No $18k new car is perfect. The Civic was the closest I could find for the money. The Mazda3 was probably the closest on my short list, but didn’t quite make my cut. The new Impreza was on the list, but they’re still too under powered and boring. VW? I’ve owned too many of those to go down that road again for a while. Might have considered a diesel Cruze for a minute, but they weren’t available around here when we bought…and I’d have probably thought better of that depreciation black hole anyway in the end.

    I forgot one car that came fairly close to making me plunk down money. The Elantra Sport. Fun to drive, decent standard equipment. The new style hatch wasn’t available yet, though, and the sedan wasn’t either when we got the wife’s Civic sedan.

  • avatar

    The pilot between 2006-2008 looked real nice! They became BUTT UGLY in 2009- 2012! They actually responded to a lot of consumer sentiment that agreed with me and tried to change them back in the generation you speak of. I don’t think they are ugly at all.

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