Midsize Sedan Deathwatch #16: The Decline of the Midsize Class's Middle Class

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
midsize sedan deathwatch 16 the decline of the midsize class s middle class

Ever more minor midsize players continued to see their share of America’s midsize sedan segment dwindle in September 2017. The cause: domination on the part of America’s two major midsize cars.

The all-new 2018 Toyota Camry enjoyed its first full month of meaningful availability in September and produced a 13-percent year-over-year U.S. sales improvement as a result. Meanwhile, Honda is clearing out remaining 2017 Accords in advance of the all-new 2018 Accord’s arrival this fall. Honda’s efforts produced a 10-percent uptick compared with September 2016.

Yet despite the big gains from the two major players, the upper class, the midsize segment still declined 7 percent in September because of sharp declines by many members of the middle class.

That means Camry and Accord market share continues to rise. That means the slice of the market earned by the middle class continues to shrink.

This is the sixteenth 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.

It’s not a new story, but it’s a story exacerbated by the transition from generation of the Camry to another. In September 2016, the Camry and Accord combined for 34 percent of the midsize market. One year later, the top-selling duo’s slice shot up not a little bit to 41 percent, a startling shift that came at the expense of vehicles such as the Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata, and Volkswagen Passat most of all.

That trio of mid-pack cars owned just 20 percent of America’s midsize sedan segment in September 2017, down seven percentage points from a year ago.

Of course, a market share loss of that magnitude doesn’t come merely because of the success of top-tier models. Nissan, Hyundai, and Volkswagen reported Altima, Sonata, and Passat declines of 34 percent, 36 percent, and 27 percent respectively. Nor were sharp declines reported by that trio the only momentous decreases. The Subaru Legacy tumbled 35 percent, the Mazda 6 was down 25 percent, the transitioning and semi-upmarket Buick Regal tumbled 57 percent. Unexpected were the improvements reported by the Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, and Kia Optima, a trio of midsize cars that’s still failing to match last year’s pace on year-to-date terms.

Despite a handful of cars that posted notable improvements, the midsize segment’s decline was still twice as harsh as the overall passenger car sector’s slide. Midsize cars accounted for 10.4 percent of America’s new vehicle sales in September 2017, down from 11.9 percent a year ago.

Five years ago, midsize cars accounted for more than 16 percent of U.S. new vehicle sales and the Camry and Accord produced “only” 3 out of every 10 sales in the midsize segment. Now the duo generates 4 out of every 10 midsize car sales.

The rich get richer.

[Image: Hyundai. Chart: The Truth About Cars]

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

Join the conversation
3 of 35 comments
  • Lastwgn Lastwgn on Oct 06, 2017

    Here's my story on this subject. This summer we needed to revise our fleet. It consisted of a CX-3, an RX-8 and a Miata. Needed a true 5 passenger car and the rotary was, sadly, losing compression. Best car ever but for that. Wife's car was the CX-3. She really liked it after driving a Tribute for 10 years. I went to the Mazda dealer fully intending to buy a top of the line Mazda6. Drove the car. Very, very fine car. But, something was missing. What I would refer to as the "hoot to drive" factor. It was just not as tossable as I wanted. My wife would not have wanted a 6 because due to hip and back pains does not like to get too far down into a car on a daily basis. Which is why the CX-3 and not the 3. My plan then shifted. I get the CX-3, which on a daily basis is a hoot to drive, and she could have a CX-5. So I drive a CX-5. Much as I am a car guy, I found the dynamics of the 2017 CX-5 to be better than the 6. I was personally stunned, but from a seat of the pants feel, the CX-5 was blast where the 6 was exceptionally refined. Bottom line, I went to the dealer to buy a fully optioned 6 GT and left with a new CX-5 Touring. My wife loves the CX-5 and will likely drive that for another 10 years just like her Tribute. I have the CX-3 for the time being, and we still have the Miata for summer cruises. In looking back on it, what I realized is that the 6 has a much longer wheelbase than the CX-5. Keep in mind that the CX-5 is based on the 3 and it begins to make some sense why the CX-5 dynamics were so much better feeling to me. The CX-3? It is not based on the 3 but based on the 2, which is why its dynamics are different still, even different from that of the Mazda3. So we now have the sports car, the fun and thrifty and maneuverable commuter, and the slightly larger ute for carrying 5 people comfortably as well as plenty of luggage space. But it is the vehicle dynamics of the CX-5 being so good that cost at least one sale of a Mazda6 this past July.

    • Mike978 Mike978 on Oct 08, 2017

      Thanks for sharing, interesting views. I can see why CUVs do well. Now I just want to see a CX5 Signature 2.5T

  • Tankinbeans Tankinbeans on Oct 06, 2017

    I have to wonder when the pendulum will swing back. It'll be interesting to see how many manufacturers get caught with their pants down because they don't offer a decent midsizer when/of fuel prices spike again. I drove a Honda Accord Sport back to back with a Mazda6 Touring and agree the Honda felt and looked extremely cheap in comparison. The dealer also left a lot to be desired.

  • Mike1041 At $300K per copy they may secure as much as 2 or 3 deposits of $1,000
  • Sgeffe Why on Earth can’t you just get the torque specs and do it yourself if you’re so-inclined?!
  • Sgeffe As was stated in another comment, the FAA nominee went down in flames. But the NTSB chairwoman certainly didn’t, and she’s certainly not qualified either!Lots of this kind of stuff going on both sides of the aisle—Ben Carson would have arguably made a better Surgeon General than HUD Secretary under Trump, for example.
  • Art Vandelay Interesting, the Polestar 2 I had as a rental utilized Android Automotive which is what GM said it is going to exclusively, yet it still offers Apple CarPlay according to this. Wonder if GM will do the same.
  • Stuart de Baker EVs just aren't ready for prime time for those with a single car and who take road trips. Being able to charge as soon as you arrive at a charging station, and even the chargers working on your car is a crapshoot. In the former case, you could have to wait for nearly an hour while someone else is charging.I also don't find EVs particularly fun to drive (I've driven a Tesla Model S and an Ionic 5.) I LOVE driving my '08 Civic (stick). I love the handling, the feel and responsiveness of the engine, the precise steering (the Michelin Pilot Ultra Sport tires help, but even with the snows on, the car is a joy). I have 152k on the clock, and hopefully another 25 years or so of driving (I was born early in the Eisenhower Administration and I have exceptionally healthy habits), and I'm going to try to keep the Civic for the duration.My Civic causes a less global warming emissions than some of these humongous battery operated trucks.