Now That the Car's Better Than Ever, Corolla Sales Will Likely Fall Nearly 20 Percent Below the Norm

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
now that the cars better than ever corolla sales will likely fall nearly 20 percent

Promises 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.

Toyota 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.

In 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 and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.

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9 of 29 comments
  • Theoldguard Theoldguard on Mar 26, 2019

    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.

    • See 4 previous
    • Hubcap Hubcap on Mar 27, 2019

      @sportyaccordy "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?

  • Lightspeed Lightspeed on Mar 26, 2019

    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.

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    • Sportyaccordy Sportyaccordy on Mar 27, 2019

      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

  • Lou_BC ERay? A southern model will be the BillyRay.
  • Lou_BC I've never used a car buying plan service. My Costco membership did get me 1,000 cash back on my last truck.
  • Jeff S I can understand 8 cars is a bit much unless you are a serious collector. I always loved the Challenger when it first came out and now. I don't need a car like this but I am glad it exists at least for 1 more year. If I had a choice between a Mustang, a Camaro, and a Challenger I would opt for a Challenger but probably with a V-6 since it has more than enough power for most and I don't need to be burning rubber. Challenger has the classic muscle car looks, more cabin room, and a decent size trunk which makes it very livable for day to day driving and for traveling. The base models of the Dodge Challenger has a 3.6-liter V6 engine that gives you 305 horsepower with 268 lb-ft torque. The car attains 60 mph from a standstill within just 6 seconds, which is quite fast. Even with their base engines, the Challenger and Camaro are lightning-fast. The Camaro reaches 165 mph, while the Challenger can go up to 11 mph faster!
  • Inside Looking Out I would avoid American cities if I can. European cities are created for humans and Americans for cars.
  • Inside Looking Out I used True car once in 2014 and got a great deal. The difference is that you do nothing but dealers call you. No haggling but you can get the same deal browsing inventories on dealers websites. It just matter of convenience, Rich people delegate job to someone else because time costs more.