By on January 5, 2019

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.

Image: Ford

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.

Image: General Motors

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.

Image: GM

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.

2017 Dodge Challenger GT AWD, Image: FCA

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.

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

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.

2019 Honda Insight - Image: Honda


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*

2017 BMW 5 Series - Image: BMW

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.

2018 BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo - Image: BMW

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]

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47 Comments on “Losers and a Few Winners: Here’s the Cars That Bucked the Trend in 2018...”

  • avatar

    This is confusing for months all we’ve been hearing is the death of the sedan, but now we find some sedans turned in some respectable numbers, the Cadillac being the biggest surprise

    So, when it comes to sedans have the “reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”?

    • 0 avatar

      Hardly. Notice there was no mention of Camry, Accord, Altima, Malibu, Fusion, Sonata, etc. In other words, the highest volume sedans are still in a steep tumble.

      The non-luxury cars (especially the small cars) listed here are popular for rental fleets, and a big buy from a rental company can artificially provide a boost on the sales charts. The luxury cars are lease queens (or incentive queen in the case of the Caddy). The Regal, Insight and Leaf are new, and in the case of two of them, their old generations were winding down previously, so the “boost” is really just leveling out after the old cars were so thin on the ground before the new versions hit the market.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, maybe not. The “actual numbers” are not that much greater. US Sales only show Avalon & CTS sales were under a thousand higher in 2018 than in 2017.
      Fiesta was up by a little over 5,000, Challenger and Elantra were under 2,500.
      Mercedes just under 6,000 while both BMW’s together sold 3700 more than in 2017. Regal was up less than 3000.
      All the ones I listed above added together sold under 24000 units more than in 2017.
      The RAM pickup by itself sold 36000 more than in 2017.
      Tacoma was up by 47000 over 2017.
      That’s why sedans are dying.

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    While sedans sales are there is still going to be a demand. The question is what manufacturer is going to be the one to build them? Toyota has very, very deep pockets and can build sedans even if they are not a money maker. They have been floating the Tundra for many years now-with basically no substantial changes-with sales of the truck less than stellar.

  • avatar

    The Challenger rules. They could build the same car for another decade and I’ll bet sales would remain consistent.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      I rented a Challenger RT back in the summer. When I went to the Hertz counter with my Gold membership to my chagrin the agent said “We have a deal on the RT”, I thought to myself “They rent the Hemi?”
      I had a fine experience with it, just enough technology, Apple play, 26 MPG highway, a smooth 8 speed auto and a nice throaty sound.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I guess the Model 3 didn’t buck the trend.

    • 0 avatar
      Brett Woods


      Dear SCE to AUX **Unfortunately when selecting the content for “Here’s the Cars That Bucked the Trend in 2018” staff determined that Tesla’s Model 3 does not best represent the innovative, modern, and youth oriented transportation solutions of our partners and we regret that this particular vehicle, while certainly a trend bucker in 2018, is not a good fit for our sponsors and does not match with our current partnership goals, or our vision for the future of automotive enthusiasm. Thank you for your understanding.**

      ~Yours sincerely, etc.

    • 0 avatar

      I was wondering about its absence as well. I thought the Model S sold more examples in 2018 too …

  • avatar

    I can’t tell you the last time I saw a Fiesta without a rental-car bar code sticker. Maybe Hertz is stuffing their fleet full of them before they can’t get them anymore.

  • avatar

    Where is Giulia? Arn’s they like 80% up?

    • 0 avatar

      I saw one on the back of tow truck on Thursday. I live in a fairly high education high income area, and I can only think of having seen them 1 or 2 times. And yes, one of the other times was on the back of a flatbed as well.

    • 0 avatar

      I see them fairly regularly here in CT.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        I see plenty of Giulias and Stelvios in the NYC metro area. Sometimes I think the Stelvio owners are folks who convinced their significant other “but it’s a crossover!, and practical”.

    • 0 avatar

      Alfa is up, because it’s new to the market and it’s fun to drive. Once they’ve established themselves as unreliable, they’ll tank. You’ll be able to get used ones for a song, but it won’t be wroth it.

      Alfa needs to step up their quality game or they’ll be out of the US market in ten years.

    • 0 avatar

      One’s in my driveway. I love it, but I don’t see many other than mine. Fine with me as it makes it feel a bit more special, though I imagine the guy who sold it to me may feel otherwise.

      I had a bad hiccup with it a month after I bought the car – apparently the battery was putting out the wrong voltage, and it tripped a transmission failure warning (the transmission itself was fine) – but it’s given me no issues in the ten thousand miles since. Not sure I’d own it as the only car in the household.

  • avatar

    The BMW 640i xDrive Gran Torino is a crime against truth and beauty. It’s a $70K Chevy Citation with detailing by Chris Bangle. The Lexus RX350 three-row suddenly looks better to me for having seen the BMW.

    The Buick’s increase means that it sold 30.5% as often last year as it did in 2011, and that was with the help of a new generation. I don’t recall Regals being thick on the ground in 2012, so putting absolute sales numbers on this might not leave room for spin. Quite a few of these increases fall under the dead cat bounce phenomenon.

    • 0 avatar

      Amen to that. The things hideous. And as an aside, does anyone even remember what jumble of letters and numbers it’s equally ugly Benz equivalent wears?

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      My business partner has/had a 650i M sport. While more attractive than the 640 Gran Torino, it is a useless car. The back seat is absolutely no usable for a full size adult. I do not understand this car, honestly neither does my partner. He wrecked in the snow after Christmas is awaiting the verdict and praying it is totaled.

  • avatar

    Rome wasn’t built in a day.

  • avatar

    Your headline…”[Here Is] The Cars That Bucked The Trend In 2018″

  • avatar

    My Accord lease ended and after some SUV rentals, I thought it’s time to do whatever everybody else is doing, replace the Accord with an SUV, problem is, it’s very difficult to find a good deal on an SUV that is popular.
    So, I ended up with another Accord, to be honest, it’s the first time I really like that car (my 3rd Accord), it rides so well and the engine produces so much power (2.0T) that it put a smile on my face whenever I drive in on sport mode.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    I’ll admit I was on CL the other day seeing what I could pick up a used Charger for. Hate sticks in trucks, but wouldn’t consider a Charger with anything but a manual.

    After renting one in Seattle, have always liked the Avalon. Big, but not too big, quiet, powerful and isolated from the road. Perfect for chewing up & spitting out the miles rolling down an interstate.

  • avatar

    I purchased a new CTS (V) in 2018. No regrets, get one while you still can!

  • avatar

    Has anyone else observed that the death of sedans may just be because no one can get in or out of one? Low seats and low roofs achieve good mileage but make for difficult access.

    • 0 avatar
      Tele Vision

      The baby boomer’s segment in the population curve has been referred to as ‘The Pig In The Python’. The have all the money and the least overall desire of ‘fall-in/climb-out’ vehicles, my Mom notwithstanding. Not to be morbid but, once the great preponderance of the boomers are dead, the sedan ( and associated wagon! ) might make its right return to prominence as the best vehicle for nearly everything. As ever, I hope for a 2L 4-cylinder; a 3L 6-cylinder ( ideally straight ); and a 4L 8-cylinder. Festoon each with fancy heads/forced induction/electrification as required. Job done.

      • 0 avatar

        “once the great preponderance of the boomers are dead”

        When we go, we’re taking the tax base with us. Good luck keeping your roads intact enough for those low-slung fantasy sleds.

        • 0 avatar
          Tele Vision

          Nah, you all had enough kids to thicken up the population curve behind you. It’s when we Gen Xers go that there will be a problem. In the interim sedans might come back. Better than brodozers, regardless of the state of the roads.

    • 0 avatar

      why can’t people “get in and out of sedans” Obese and in horrible shape because of lack of exercise and laziness. The stereotypes about fat dumb diseased
      Americans are correct.

      • 0 avatar

        Stereotypes are great. Wanna hear some about POC and Gay folks?

      • 0 avatar

        While ease of getting in and out are nice (and pretty much a requirement for my mid 70s parents) I still think the reason sedans are dying is everyone else is driving a full size truck which you can’t see over. So the first time you get in a vehicle that is a bit higher up you can can actually SEE around all these trucks. That confident feeling alone helps sell these things. Every time I hear a co-worker has bought a CUV thingy I ask why. The reasons given are #1 “feels safer” followed by #2 “I need the room”. #1 is debatable as a larger body structure is better, but roll over risk is increased. And when I challenge them on them on #2 they mentioned that ONE time they had to pickup two people from the airport AND grab something from Costco… or they have kids or a dog, or both.

    • 0 avatar

      After years in station wagons then mini-vans my Mother was very happy with a series of sedans for the past 20 or so years, but now in her 70’s she switched to a CX5 mostly because of the ingress egress issue.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    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.

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