Losers and a Few Winners: Here's the Cars That Bucked the Trend in 2018

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Don’t worry, it isn’t a long list. You won’t be here all day. While the industry coasted to a surprising, yet slight, year-over-year volume increase in 2018, automakers can’t thank America’s desire for traditional passenger cars for eking out a win. Light trucks carried the day, with car sales plunging to new lows. Industry-wide, U.S. car sales sank 13.1 percent in 2018, pushing their share of the market to just over 31 percent.

Within this soup of sales, a handful of conventional passenger cars exist that held their ground, straining mightily against gale force headwinds. Maybe it’s a futile battle, but it’s worth noting these survivors.

Ford Fiesta

Scheduled with a date with death in the North American market, the plucky Ford Fiesta nonetheless closed out 2018 with a sales victory. As its equally doomed Ford peers tanked, the Fiesta managed a 17.8 percent year-over-year December sales increase, as well as an 11.9 percent gain for the year. We admire its determination.

Buick Regal

The last of the German-crafted GMs did well in 2018 because it didn’t do well in 2017. The wind-down of the previous-generation model in 2017 sunk volume to one-quarter of the generation’s best sales year of 2011. Still, the new Regal, joined by its TourX wagon sibling, did manage to climb out of a trough. December sales rose 21.1 percent, year over year, with the model posting a 22.1 percent gain for the year.

Cadillac CTS

Maybe it’s shoppers realizing this rear- or all-wheel drive sedan will soon depart our lives. Maybe it’s incentives. Whatever the cause, Americans rewarded the doomed CTS with additional sales in 2018. December’s tally tops that of last year’s by 9 percent, with full-year sales rising 8.5 percent.

Dodge Challenger

America loves the Dodge Challenger, as there’s nothing else like it. A full-size two-door sedan with a buffet of power options that looks dynamite even in base clothing, the Canadian-built Challenger is America’s darling. Riding on ancient bones and having seen only one significant refresh in its decade-long life, the Challenger was the only LX-platform car to see a sales gain in 2018. Would you believe the Challenger actually set a sales record last year? It’s true. While December showed an 8 percent year-over-year drop, the full-year tally has the Challenger up 3 percent, beating the model’s 2015 volume record. We salute you, Challenger.

Toyota Avalon

As the longest-lasting car on American roads, Toyota’s big Avalon sedan continues truckin’ along, now with a controversial face. The makeover, which saw the addition of perhaps the largest car grille of the 21st century, helped the Avalon post a YoY December sales gain of 4.6 percent and a full-year gain of 3.1 percent.


Wait, no model, you ask? That’s right. While long-running nameplates in the stable of the Big H saw their 2018 sales fall lower than the year before, the mid-year addition of the Insight meant Honda cars, as a collective, posted a 4.2 percent climb. That’s a rare thing for a large automaker these days.

Nissan Leaf

Helped along by a 2017 sales wind-down and the second-generation model’s significantly improved range, the gas-free Leaf had a good year. Not a 2014-style great year, but a good one, nonetheless. The non-snobby EV ended 2018 with sales up 31 percent over 2017.

Hyundai Elantra

With the Focus now gone and the Cruze soon to follow, Hyundai might be able to attract more value-conscious compact car buyers in 2019. That’s the hope, anyway. Bearing a significant refresh towards the end of 2018, the Elantra managed a slim victory over 2017’s full-year tally, edging up 1.1 percent. The same can’t be said for other cars flying the Hyundai flag.

Kia Rio

Sporting a fresh exterior that earned applause from several TTAC members, the subcompact Kia Rio held its own in 2018. While December sales fell short of the previous year’s tally by just 10 units, its year-to-date volume was a different story. Sales rose 37.1 percent last year. Keep in mind that this showing is only half as good as the model’s 2012 volume, but small victories deserve polite celebration.

Mercedes-Benz CLA

Ugh. You guys brought this thing’s volume up 9.1 percent in 2018, while buying fewer C-Class sedans. Good job. *Golf clap*

BMW 5 Series

Dignified, sporting, midsize luxury was not a disappearing trait at BMW last year. The brand’s 5 Series earned itself an 8.1 percent sales increase in 2018, though much of this can be credited to a light sales month in January 2017.

BMW 6 Series

No such year-over-year trickery for the brand’s 6 Series line. The diverse bodystyle offerings found in the 6 Series stable tempted more American buyers in 2018, earning the line a 12.1 percent sales increase.

Mitsubishi Mirage

The car people love to hate seems to be getting the last laugh. Clearly, cheap cars have a place in our landscape and, truth be told, it would be a crime if the segment died. Many people are persuaded by low, low entry prices, and the Mirage is all about low price — and horsepower. Quips aside, it was a good year for the Mirage hatch and sedan. December sales volume rose 71 percent, year over year, helping the model finish the year with an 8.8 percent volume increase. Last year, Mitsubishi enjoyed its best sales showing since 2007.

[Images: Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Steph Willems/TTAC, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia Motors, Daimler AG, BMW Group, Mitsubishi Motors]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Bd2 Bd2 on Jan 07, 2019

    Aside from the Elantra, the Ioniq saw a sales increase for Hyundai. W/ a new model, the Veloster has seen an increase in sales for the past couple of months, so should see an increase in year-to-year sales for 2019. On the non-"car" side, the Tucson saw a pretty hefty increase and the Santa Fe, like the Veloster, should see a year-to-year sales for 2019.

  • El scotto El scotto on Jan 07, 2019

    So, the Regal was made by Opel in Germany. Normally that would win praises on here. However, GM sold Opel to Peugeot-Citroen. I'm afraid Regal parts may be hard to find before the warranty even ends.

    • PrincipalDan PrincipalDan on Jan 09, 2019

      Eh... the greasy bits of a Regal/TourX are all GM parts bin special.

  • NotMyCircusNotMyMonkeys dudes off the rails on drugs and full of hate and retribution. so is musky.
  • Big Al from Oz Musk and Trump are of the same ilk, except Musk's IQ is a damn site higher than Trumps. Musk like Trump is only into himself. Musk doesn't care about Trump only Musk. Musk sees more dollars if Trump wins.Hey, I'm Big Al again!3
  • Rover Sig We have a car with two fake exhausts in the bumper, but a large shiny muffler visible hanging down on one side, not aligned with the fake exhaust exits. Horrendous. I had to paint the shiny muffler with high-temp black paint to make it less visible. Exhaust pipes were meant to be round and hang below the bumper, and they can be made quiet or loud as the engineers like. But fake exhausts rank down there with fake intake vents on the side of that old Buick.
  • EBFlex Of course it does. What a silly question
  • Buickman Elon is a phony.