By on September 14, 2018

As we told you yesterday, passenger car market share dropped to 30.6 percent in the month of August as a tide of crossovers, trucks, and SUVs continued swamping the automotive landscape. Few automakers can say their traditional passenger cars are making headway against the current.

Out of the struggling mass of drowning cars, compacts seem to have the most strength left, if only because of their affordability. It’s easier to flip a midsize buyer into a crossover than an entry-level buyer who wants to keep their monthly payments as low as possible, versatility be damned. Most small cars still see significant volume. At the upper end of the scale, however, large cars have become ghosts. I’ve taken to peering at drivers in any new Buick LaCrosse or Cadillac CT6 (etc) I encounter on the roads, checking out their age and gender, as it’s not a regular occurrence.

Still, despite ceding nearly all of its market share, the large car category isn’t entirely a room full of sob stories. 

Maybe it’s a pointless effort, but a couple of automakers have been able to move the needle on large car sales by spending money on them. Not by a lot, and certainly not enough for the models to suddenly spring up in parking lots everywhere, but enough that the automaker can claim a year-to-date sales gain.

The Ford Taurus is not among this crowd of holdouts. Scheduled for death and talked about only by fleet managers, its sales dropped 16.8 percent over the first eight months of 2018. Its Lincoln Continental stablemate? Down 29.2 percent.

At General Motors, where sales reporting is a quarterly phenomenon, Chevrolet Impala sales fell 11.7 percent at the end of the second quarter of 2018, with flagship CT6 down 9.3 percent. You know which direction the Buick LaCrosse headed, don’t you? Correct. Down 9.7 percent in Q2 2018. Only the loved-by-livery Cadillac XTS served as a bright spot, but it’s not a happy story. The XTS, which saw year-to-date sales rise 16.2 percent in the second quarter, is, like the Taurus, scheduled for execution. Its continued popularity does not change its fate.

We’ll have a better picture of these models’ respective health come the beginning of October.

2018 Acura RLX

At Fiat Chrysler, the two-model Chrysler division has one model on the ascent, and another sliding downhill. The Pacifica minivan is not the one in trouble. Sales of the Chrysler 300 fell 14 percent over the course of the year. Dodge has better luck with its endlessly updated Charger sedan, but a bad August pushed its YTD sales figure into the negative (- 10 percent). It’s worth noting that FCA’s Brampton plant, which builds the automaker’s full-sizers, shut down for five weeks starting in mid-summer for paint shop upgrades.

If you’re wondering if those bright spots aren’t coming, fear not. Toyota Motor Corp, which put fresh — and very large — faces on its two biggies, reaped a bit of renewed interest because of it. Toyota Avalon sales are up 8.7 percent, year to date, while the revamped Lexus LS posted a whopping 124.9 percent YTD sales increase. LS sales over the first eight months of the year surpass the full-year totals for 2017 and 2016, and come close to topping 2015.

Honda can thank a 2018 model-year refresh for an uptick in Acura RLX sales. The now-beakless model saw sales rise 71.9 percent, year to date, bringing its volume from inconsequential to… still inconsequential.

2018 Lexus LS 500h

Infiniti didn’t find any extra buyers for its Q70 this year. The model dropped 23.6 percent as the brand focused its attention on fancy new engines and a new crossover. Kia, however, did manage to rustle up an extra 81 buyers over the course of the year for its Cadenza, sometimes referred to as the “Korean Buick.” The same can’t be said of Hyundai’s Genesis brand, which let G90 sales peter out as it awaits a shipment of 2019 models.

Will the arrival of an inexplicable second-generation Kia K900 this fall reverse the seldom-spotted model’s sales decline? Maybe. Does it matter much to Kia’s coffers? Nope.

Among European luxury brands, the dignified S-Class eked out an incredibly slim 0.3 percent sales increase this year, but its BMW 7 Series rival didn’t clear the bar. Bimmer’s big sedan fell 3.7 percent, year to date. The third member of the Big German Three can’t really compete in this race, as A8 sales dwindled to almost nothing ahead of the fall release of the next-gen 2019 model.

As Jaguar prepares to announce what it plans to do with the flagship XJ sedan, the model has become more of a ghost than ever. Its sales, like that of the K900, aren’t even worth talking about.

So, to recap: Because of GM’s out-of-date sales reporting, we can only be sure of five large sedans that brought in more buyers this year than the same period in 2017 — one German, one Korean, and three Japanese. With the possible exception of the S-Class, all of these cars could go away tomorrow without too much financial hardship suffered by their builders. The numbers simply aren’t there.

[Images: Daimler AG, Acura, Lexus, Kia]

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37 Comments on “It’s a Car Bloodbath Out There, but a Few Large Sedans Can Claim They’re Having a Good Year...”

  • avatar

    I pride myself on being able to identify a car’s make or model almost immediately upon spotting it, but yesterday I saw a grayish Hyundai Santa Fe parked next to a grayish Acura RDX. If they didn’t have distinguishing badges, I’d have been completely stumped. They even had the same wheel design!

    • 0 avatar

      I got in a little hot water when walking with a friend up to his new BMW X-something crossover thing, I used poor judgment when I asked “When did you get the new Envision (Buick)!” He was miffed for days. I finally gave him a bottle of really nice Bourbon and said that actually that Buick obviously copied his BMW to soothe his wounded pride. I still think the damn thing looks like a Buick.

      • 0 avatar

        The Envision DOES look a lot like the X-whatever. It’s all in the side sculpting!

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, I’ve made that mistake as well, Buick did a good copy job, well it IS Chinese, after all

      • 0 avatar

        Sometimes, when someone gets a new SUV, I’ll play dumb and on purpose say something along the lines of:

        “Oh, what a nice STATION WAGON!”

        “It’s like that one your mother had. What was it called, a Colony Ark? A Country Squirrel? Wait, it was an Oldsmobile, wasn’t it? I know, a Custom Bruiser!”

        • 0 avatar

          I walked out of my ex’s place a few years ago and saw an FX35 parallel parked on the street. I remarked that someone from the 1970s who was somehow transported to modern time would consider it a basic continuation of the station wagons he was used to in his day (albeit more compact, though had it been a Chevy Traverse, it might have fit the typical wagon size better, he might have even asked was it still called the Kingswood).

          But, don’t dare let that secret get out to the station wagon aficionados. Much gnashing of teeth will thus transpire.

      • 0 avatar

        I hope he shared the bourbon. BMW is so off the plot that your comment was legit.

      • 0 avatar

        We saw 2 new crossovers at the Cadillac dealer sitting out front parked at an angle. My buddy said- “there selling Volvo XC90’s at the Caddy dealer”. I replied that those were the new XT6. They really are getting harder to tell apart.

    • 0 avatar

      I saw this good looking Honda CR-V on the highway another day. Only to find out that it was a BMW X1 upon closer inspection.

  • avatar

    What this stat telling us? Cars are down. But also, cars are too expensive. If these things didn’t cost 35K…. I mean, people still like to get value for the buck. @35K value is not there. You can get more for this money per square inch of a car estate.

    • 0 avatar

      no one “needs” to buy a 35k car though. A base trim midsize is more than sufficient for our driving needs, as big as a large family sedan of the 90s, and they can be had for low to mid 20k range all day long.

    • 0 avatar

      CARS ARE TOO EXPENSIVE says the man who hasn’t bothered to research what cars cost decades ago, adjusting for inflation. Factoring in increased equipment, better materials and cheaper interest rates, cars are cheaper and better equipped than ever. Doesn’t change the fact that the market as a whole has shunned them.

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry

      I dunno. I have been shopping Chrysler 300s after a very good rental experience with one. They are certainly built on old architecture…but if you want to be really comfortable with lots of room…and ride in a quiet cabin….the 300 offers A LOT of value for money. You can buy a one-year-old x-rental for about $20,000, and new ones are driving off dealer lots for about $10k under sticker price.

  • avatar

    That new Avalon looks pretty sharp on the road. That overwrought maw doesn’t appear nearly as ham fisted on the street as is does on screen.

  • avatar

    The LS 500 is a “success” only in relation to the anemic sales of the LS 460 in its last years.

    The LS 500 has hit the rather modest 1k/month sales goal only ONCE thus far this year.

    As for the new Avalon – too early to say, but the rise in Avalon sales this year (basically, Jan thru April) was due to aggressive discounting of the old model.

  • avatar

    “..It’s easier to flip a midsize buyer into a crossover than an entry-level buyer who wants to keep their monthly payments as low as possible, versatility be damned…”

    That versatility is highly overrated. 90% of CUV buyers could do the same thing with a Versa or a Fit. It’s only because sedans have become so impractical with fast rooflines and tiny trunks that crossovers seem attractive. That, and the fatties who can’t get into a car.

    • 0 avatar

      If two vehicles are the same price, and we are in the land of “least crappy car for my budget”, not the la la land of “I want a custom color on this car, and can I pick it up at the factory in Stuttgart” then the bigger car will sell every time.

    • 0 avatar

      I have a hard time believing that a Fit is as versatile as an Explorer.

      I agree that the right car can do more than people think. I escorted my family around in my Taurus a few weeks ago. Five people sat in comfort. The trunk swallowed all their luggage, including a wheelchair, with room left over. Our Escape wouldn’t have stood a chance doing the same.

      • 0 avatar

        Just think what you could carry with the Taurus based Flex

      • 0 avatar

        The current Taurus does have one of the largest trunks on the market. And, contrary to popular opinion on these pages, isn’t lacking for interior room. It is just packaged different compared to many other sedans, with a higher seating position, which can make it *feel* less roomy, even though it isn’t. That seating position leads to less fatigue when driving (or riding for extended periods) and better posture which reduces back pain. Ask me how I know.

    • 0 avatar

      LOL. THIS 10000%. I used to see my coworker try rock himself a few times in the seat of his car in order to get out. He’s a solid 300lbs. I heard him complain about how difficult ingress and egress were for him. I suggested he drop a few lb’s, but instead he went out and got a Ford Edge.

      The fatties comment made me snort. Thanks for that.

    • 0 avatar

      Simply this.

  • avatar

    What about Teslas two sedans (the S and 3)?

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Sooo, rich people keep buying S Klasses and LS and their sales are pretty much stable. Avalons sell to those with (or will have) nice 401ks, Hyundai/Kia luxury sells to some outliers and domestic luxury sales drop like a stone.

  • avatar
    Keith Tomas

    Few people that I know who own SUVs and crossovers actually NEED them. It’s keeping up with the Joneses at its most blatant…the only AWD utility car I’d consider would be the Volvo V90 CC because it’s so damned pretty. Cadillac should keep the XTS though – give it a hatch, make it a “gran coupe” like BMW, Audi and other premium makes have.

  • avatar

    The Cadenza is a surprisingly pretty car. The red RLX: I would rather drive a Corolla than be seen in that!

  • avatar

    GM simply could not compete in cars with Nissan, Toyota, Mazda, Kia, Hyundai, Skoda, PSA, and Tesla. The world’s 4th largest car company is still giving us mediocre products. It has been six months since I sat in the awful Sierra interior at a local dealership. It was so cheap it is burned into my mind.

    Soon people are going to realize that Nissan and Toyota also produce better trucks and SUVs. It is obvious by observing the quality of several GM trucks like the Sierra, Barra could give a damn about quality.

    GM sucks…..

    • 0 avatar

      The F-150 inspired Nissan maybe. The Tundra is eligible for a nursing home and it’s obvious Toyota doesn’t seem to care about it much. Every thing we touched from the flimsy fuel filler door to the wafer thin tinny sheet metal to the comical gargantuan grill that fells like it would collapse if a bird hit it and speaking of interiors the Tundras was very subpar, flimsy and outdated. The GM twins interiors for sure could use an upgrade but the rest of the truck is way better in almost every way.

  • avatar

    Bring back the Mazda6 hatchback and I’ll buy one. Or similar from the other Asian makers. But not those hideous BMW Gran Coupes.

  • avatar

    It seems to me that part of the sales drop has to be because of so many lease cars coming back to the market. How many people really lease a car year after year without finally deciding to lease no more and start buying again? You just can not keep increasing sales after a certain time frame of available buyers. For me, I used to buy a Honda every two or three years because I could trade them in and pay a reasonable amount of difference to get in another new one. At least in my mind I thought I was reasonable.But as I got older and older I developed my dad’s practice, buy a car new and give it to my wife, take her car and drive it until time to get rid of it and buy her another new one and repeat the cycle. But this doesn’t continue to work any longer because like in his case, he bought Mercury Grand Marquis every 5 years.Well they don’t make them any longer and things change similarly with me. I am driving a 2006 Mazda3 5 speed sedan and wanted to finally replace it. Yes I kept it longer than ten years but it has been such a great car but like many others the same model can no longer be purchased. Mazda doesn’t offer the 3 or the 6 in a sedan with manual transmission. I also want a naturally aspirated motor and would prefer not to have all the new tech like start/stop, lane keep, etc. And with all this new tech added car prices have gone up so much that sometimes it puts the same model that you liked in a much higher priced segment that I don’t want to spend for a decreasing value car.

  • avatar

    Well, I saw the newest BMW 3 series on the road the other day and thought it was a slightly better Honda design…

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