It's a Car Bloodbath Out There, but a Few Large Sedans Can Claim They're Having a Good Year

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

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.

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.

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]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • MorrisGray MorrisGray on Jan 07, 2020

    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.

  • Canam23 Canam23 on Jul 07, 2020

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

  • Juan Let's do an 1000 mile drive and see who gets there first.
  • Eliyahu CVT needed for MPG. Outback is indeed the legacy of, err, the Legacy.
  • Gayneu I can comment on these. My wife always thought the Minis were "cute" so I bought her a used 2005 (non-S, 5 speed) for one of her "special" birthdays. She loved it and I kinda did too. Somehow a hole developed in the transmission case and the fluid drained out, ruining the car (too expensive to fix). A local mechanic bought it for $800.We then bought a used 2015 S (6 speed) which we still have today (80k miles). Her sister just bought a used S as well (also manual). It has been a dependable car but BMW-priced maintenance and premium gas hurts for sure. I think the earlier generation (like in the article) were better looking with cleaner lines. The 2015 S rides too stiff for me (Chicago roads) but is a hoot on smooth ones. It does seem to shift weird - its hard to describe but it shifts differently from every other manual I have driven. No matter how hard I try, so won't let go of her Mini.
  • Crown Seems like they cut some cylinders too.A three cylinder...where are they planning on selling that??
  • Slavuta "There’s also the problem of climate change, and the more intense weather that comes along with it"How could one even write something like this? We don't have more intense weather. We have better weather. When Earth started, it was a fiery ball. We don't know what weather was in 1700. And even if we know some of it in Europe, we don't know what was happening in Africa, South America, Oceania, etc. We have people living in places where they did not live before. We have news that report weather related events minutes later or during. This did not happen before. There is no evidence that we have an increase in intensity. I looked into historical records in the area where I live - there is not much movement at all between 1970 and now. And remember - none of the previous weather predictions have materialized.