By on March 26, 2019

2020 Toyota Corolla - Image: Toyota CanadaPromises that “This will be the sedan that saves cars” and “The passenger car comeback starts here” are so 2017.

2018 welcomed the arrival of high expectations in the form of an all-new Toyota Camry and an all-new Honda Accord. The results were predictable, if not in the eyes of automaker CEOs, then surely for the rest of us. Camry and Accord sales each fell to a seven-year low, the refreshed Hyundai Sonata plunged to a 15-year low, and Mazda 6 volume hit an all-time annual low.

Now it’s time for an all-new version of the Toyota Corolla.  Rather than suggest the Corolla will revitalize the compact car segment by generating renewed demand across the board and ending a mass migration to crossovers, Toyota’s prediction is much more realistic.

According to Toyota, sales of the all-new-much-improved Corolla will decline.

2020 Toyota Corolla rear - Image: ToyotaToyota now expects the Corolla to be merely a 250,000-unit nameplate in the United States, an annual rate of success for which many automakers would sacrifice their proverbial firstborn. (Across six nameplates, Mazda sold 300,325 vehicles in the U.S. in 2018; Mitsubishi sold 118,074 vehicles.)

For the Corolla, however, a 250,000-unit performance would equal the lowest-volume year for its all-time best seller since 2011, when the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami severely hindered Toyota supply. Prior to 2011, Toyota USA hadn’t reported a sub-250,000-unit year for Corolla sales since 2001. Compared with the last decade, a 250,000-unit performance would be nearly 20-percent below the Corolla’s normal annual result.

Though popular for decades, Corolla popularity climbed to new heights over the last 15+ years as Toyota reaped the benefits of a built-in reputation for reliability. The latest Corollas, though leaving much to be desired for keen drivers, offered outstanding space efficiency and high levels of standard active safety kit.

Toyota began routinely selling more than 300,000 Corollas per year in the U.S. in 2003, shooting past the 350K mark on four occasions and hitting a high of 387,388 sales in 2006.

2006 was a very different time, a time when the Toyota brand was selling 1.1 million cars and fewer than half a million SUVs/crossovers per year. In the intervening dozen years, Toyota’s car volume has tumbled by more than a quarter while the brand’s utility vehicle sales have risen 83 percent. Toyota now sells nearly as many RAV4s per year as the brand sold RAV4s, 4Runners, FJs, Highlanders, Land Cruisers, and Sequoias in 2006.

Yes, 2006 was a different time. Indeed, 2016 was a very different time. Low-volume competitors such as the Mitsubishi Lancer and Dodge Dart have since given up the ghost, followed by formerly high-volume contenders such as the Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze. From the viewpoint of many Corolla competitors, the cost of staying in the fight simply isn’t worth the potential reward, not when the rewards are less and less impressive and earning them requires coming to the fight armed with ever more enticing incentives.

But if the absence of many competitors leads any to believe that Toyota’s much-improved Corolla stands a chance at growing its customer base, Toyota certainly isn’t on board with the theory. Just as the disappearance of competitors hasn’t resulted in Camry sales growth, so too the departures of Focus and Cruze aren’t likely to lead anything other than further degradation of compact car demand.2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid - Image: Toyota CanadaIn part due to a new high-mileage hybrid (that will presumably deepen the Prius’s woes), Toyota believes a 250,000-unit target is appropriate. Southern states that haven’t entirely turned their backs on passenger cars will also help to keep the Corolla from becoming a reject.

The Corolla’s most heated rivalry continues to pit the Toyota compact against the Honda Civic. As Toyota clears out leftover Corollas in anticipation of the new sedan’s arrival, total Corolla volume rose 17 percent to 54,119 units through the first two months of 2019. That’s an early lead over the Civic, which was down 10 percent to 49,565 during the same period.

It was also enough to make the Corolla America’s top-selling passenger car. Not a bad start for a car that’s facing low expectations.

[Images: Toyota]

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

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29 Comments on “Now That the Car’s Better Than Ever, Corolla Sales Will Likely Fall Nearly 20 Percent Below the Norm...”


  • avatar
    FreedMike

    They’re probably trying to make Corolla less of a fleet-queen nameplate.

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      Fleet managers don’t like IRS, because it chews up the rear tyres without continuous maintenance.

      The RAV4 you notice, retains torsion beam suspension.

      • 0 avatar
        spw

        Yikes… both Camry and Rav4 (and most other Toyota’s) have IRS, and had it for a long time. Only Corolla and Yaris didnt, and actually last Corolla had it for the hatch, not sedan.

  • avatar
    jatz

    56″ inches high, 6.6″ ground clearance. My condolences.

    Nice try, though. There are far worse.

  • avatar
    d4rksabre

    I think the new Corolla is pretty smart looking. Much more grown up. I might even give it a look this summer if I decide to downsize in order to afford project car.

    • 0 avatar
      jatz

      Agreed. It’s almost Volkswagenish in its styling restraint, has a decent greenhouse for a sedan and is certainly in a pricing sweet spot.

      If only the hatch weren’t such a boy racer runt.

  • avatar
    Detroit-X

    Toyota and Honda have this agreement. Toyota will keep the Corolla less fun to drive, and Honda will keep the Civic less reliable.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    Per C&D, it lost 6 inches of rear seat legroom but Toyota’s own site still lists 2019’s 41″ of legroom as current

    • 0 avatar
      vvk

      Hatch vs sedan.

      • 0 avatar
        Richard Chen

        Consumer Reports also noted that the 2020 shrunk on the inside.

        The Prius lost a few inches of legroom when it moved to TNGA a few years ago, and it’s riding on the same wheelbase as the Corolla sedan.

        EPA passenger volume w/moonroof:
        2020 88.6
        2019 97.1
        2019 hatch: 84.6
        2019 Prius: 93.1

        • 0 avatar
          tonycd

          From 97.1 to 88.6 for the sedan? That is a really significant loss of room. Camry lost rear seat room on the new platform too, but it had more to surrender. In an era when a lot of midsize sedan buyers are dropping down a size class to save money, that’s a serious disadvantage against Civic (95 with a sunroof) and even the crappy Sentra (96 without).

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    That’s a 20% decline in a market where the Cruze and Focus are bye-bye, and the Sentra is an after-thought. It is also a 20% decline even with the really interesting hybrid model now available.

    Sedan sales in the US are in complete freefall.

    • 0 avatar
      jatz

      CAFE is hammering down CUV heights with every new generation and this Corolla is showing how a popular sedan can move in the opposite direction with a decent greenhouse.

      My expectation is that the two shall meet and be indistinguishable but for trunk vs hatch (heavily raked) at around 58″ high.

      If so, sedans will survive so long as they remain a few grand cheaper than CUVs.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I think there are a lot of people who buy a Corolla, drive it for 3 or 5 or 10 years, and then go trade it in on a new Corolla. They don’t even look at other cars. And if your car is an appliance, there are lots of worse choices you can make.

    • 0 avatar
      jatz

      How many other brands and models of *anything* have been that trustworthy for that long?

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        Yes! Buy it for it’s long-term reliability, then trade it in when the warranty is up.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          The high resale value makes this approach not quite as stupid-sounding as one might think, same reason people lease them: high residuals allows Toyota to run some VERY cheap lease deals. My neighbor across the street is the perfect example: single retired older lady, leases a black Corolla LE every few years. Her sister that drives up from Cincinnati to visit, drives the exact same Corolla right down to the black paint. For folks that don’t want to worry about buying brakes or tires or anything.

  • avatar
    theoldguard

    I don’t think $2.50 gas is a reliable assumption. I hope it stays that price, but I don’t think it’s a reliable assumption. If it does spike up, we are back in the same place we were in 1973. If, in the 1980’s, people had told me that in 2019 we would be driving cars as heavy as were the cars in 1969, I would have said they were insane. Here we are. In SC where I am now living, the de rigueur vehicle is the Tahoe or others of similar heft. I would like to get a Mini, but here I would get crushed—like a cockroach.

    • 0 avatar
      jatz

      I waited in ’73 gas lines as have many others here. That was a planned act of economic sabotage by the A-rabs.

      We no longer need their oil nearly as much and I think the Sauds are too twitchy about the Persians to ever pull that on us again.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      theoldguard,

      Apparently an airbag with its associated wiring and sensors weighs about 700 pounds.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        Not being maimed in a 45 mph crash is worth the weight, eh? Nahh, we need heavy cars that look great after a crash, so our family can drive it home after our funeral.

        Ever compare a 1969 car to a modern one that weighs as much? Betcha the newer one is quicker *and* gets far better MPG. Which one would you trust to start and get you to work with 0 drama at 5 AM on a January morning in Illinois? Yes, the good old days weren’t that good.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      theoldguard, couple of things….

      1, global oil supply is a lot more stable than it used to be, specifically because the US has ramped up production.

      2, vehicles of all types, including crossovers/trucks/SUVs, are much more fuel efficient than they used to be, lessening the panicked trades to smaller vehicles in the increasingly unlikely event of skyrocketing fuel costs.

      3, mass still rules, but all vehicles are much safer than they used to be, and small cars maneuver better.

      A MINI is a bridge too far for me (and have always had terrible reliability for some reason) but I am pretty much set on a Golf hatchback of some sort for my next ride.

      • 0 avatar
        hubcap

        “A MINI is a bridge too far for me…”

        I really want a MINI JCW 2dr. It’s an engaging car and if I can get one for what I’m willing to pay, I’ll pull the trigger. If not, then like you, I’d most likely go GTI (and its a same you can no longer get cloth seats with a moonroof).

        Did I mention how fun the MINI is?

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    It looks pretty handsome, should be very competitive against the Civic. As ugly as the Civic is though, they hit a real sweet-spot with the overall envelope of that car and the overall size, so good in fact, the Civic has killed the Accord, not the Camry. Wish Toyota could just once, go crazy and put 225HP in the Corolla and revive the SR5 name for it.

    • 0 avatar
      thornmark

      speaking of facts:

      Camry sales fell by a greater % in 2018 than the Accord did and the 2019 Accord is outselling the 2019 Camry retail. Camry wins fleet because Honda doesn’t do fleet.

      I suspect the Corolla will do well but Corolla buyers are different than Civic buyers – Corolla buyers probably much older – plus, again fleet sales for Toyota.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Honda has definitely let the Civic reach more of its potential. The 11th gen is due soon. If they can

      – fix the 1.5T oil dilution problem
      – port over the Insight’s smoothed over exterior details and the Accord/Insight LCD gauge cluster
      – move the Si closer to the Type-R (240 HP 1.8T, CTR front suspension)
      – offer a panoramic sunroof (since we’re making requests)

      They will have a total smash hit


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