Midsize Car Sales Weren't Actually That Bad in the First Quarter; Toyota Camry Market Share Is Rising

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
midsize car sales weren t actually that bad in the first quarter toyota camry market

After years of steady decline, including an 8-percent decrease in calendar year 2019, U.S. sales of midsize cars stabilized in the early part of 2020.

In a manner of speaking.

Like the overall market, midsize car sales in the first quarter of 2020 declined. But the segment’s decrease was only marginally worse than the decline reported by the overall market, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as the decreases reported elsewhere in the passenger car sector.

Meanwhile, at the top of the midsize heap, the Toyota Camry continued to improve its market share, expanding the size of its slice in a shrinking pie.

The decline of America’s once-favored midsize sedan market is thoroughly, perhaps infamously, chronicled here at TTAC. Near the end of 2019, we reported that the segment had lost half of its market share since the recession a decade prior, and that midsize sales may not top 1.4 million units in 2019.

The end result was 1.376 million sales for the midsize segment, a drop of 119,000 sales in a market that was down by roughly 211,000 sales. Midsize car market share dipped to 8 percent, the sixth consecutive year of market share decline.

Through the first three months of 2020, midsize car market share has actually held relatively steady just above 8 percent, a feat of remarkable strength given the wild declines reported by some members of the category.

No doubt, COVID-19’s March impact surely caused the knife to dig in deeper. Honda Accord sales fell 27 percent in 2020 Q1. The Hyundai Sonata was down 28 percent. Mazda 6 sales tumbled 35 percent. The Subaru Legacy and Volkswagen Passat both lost more than one-fifth of their volume.

The top-selling Toyota Camry, on the other hand, only fell slightly below 2019’s first-quarter sales pace. Faring much better than the auto industry at large, Camry sales dipped “just” 6 percent. The only car to fare better was the fifth-ranked Chevrolet Malibu, which ticked upward at a 3-percent clip.

If the Camry continues to outpace the segment by losing only a small portion of the previous year’s demand – and everything is a big if in during a pandemic – then 2020 will be seventh consecutive year in which Camry market share has improved.

Don’t mistake the market share growth for actual sales improvement. Camry sales have fallen 18 percent since that streak of market share growth began. Excluding recession-era sales in 2010 and the Tōhoku earthquake crisis of 2011, 2019 was the worst year for Camry volume in America since 1995. This is not a car that’s becoming more prevalent in American driveways. And it’s hard to imagine that any potential auto sales recovery in the second half of 2020, which hardly seems likely, will be irretrievably linked to a midsize car. Could 2020 be the first sub-300K U.S. sales year for the Toyota Camry since 1993? The first sub-250K sales year since 1988?

If so, 2020 will treat the Camry’s competitors even more harshly. Increasingly, America’s remaining midsize car buyers are Camry buyers. From 17 percent of the midsize segment in 2013, and with 10 active rivals remaining, the Camry is now garnering more than a quarter of the category’s interest.

[Image: 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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  • Bd2 Bd2 on May 13, 2020

    Hyundai has cut back sharply on fleet sales for the new Sonata (highest ATP in the segment) so someone had to be picking up the slack (before C-19 tanked fleet sales).

  • Edsel Maserati Edsel Maserati on May 15, 2020

    The new Camry gets terrific fuel economy. I've seen 44 mpg easy on the open road. Around the suburbs, 27-20 mpg. And it's comfortable enough I needed a car for long trips. This sucker delivers. The high-zoot styling will probably date badly but for right now I'm happy with it.

  • Tassos https://carsandbids.com/auctions/rj5Blq50/2001-volkswagen-eurovan-mv-weekenderNote the seller's name: "My VW Sucks" (!!!)WHy am I not in the very least surprised.
  • George Who’s winning the UAW strike? Nobody.Who’s losing the UAW strike? Everybody.
  • Zznalg Now, a slam of Subaru. I own an Outback Wilderness. Subaru has capitulated to lawyers and the regulatory environment to render life with their vehicles quite unpleasant. A few cases in point: The vehicles won't allow you to drive one MPH without ALL the seatbelts fastened. You cannot pull a Subaru out of a garage or parking space with no seatbelt without the car screaming at you. First there is the annoying beeping. After a few seconds Subaru ups its game and raised the volume ridiculously. To get it to shut up, I've even had to turn off the car and open a door. It is not enough to put it into park. The beeping continues. I am Not talking about driving without a seatbelt. I'm talking about 1 MPH maneuvers in one's own driveway. Next, the car's auto-breaking is tuned to slow you down or even slam on your brakes at every possible opportunity. The other day, my Wilderness decided to do just that almost resulting in my being rear ended. For NO reason. Next, the Outback Wilderness' transmission is tuned to prevent forward motion. It does its best to NOT GIVE POWER in nearly every situation unless you keep the accelerator depressed for more than 1-3 seconds. This is actually unsafe. In fact at highway speeds, when one presses the gas, the car momentarily reduces power and slows down. The paddle shifters help. But overall, Subaru has so neutered the Outback Wilderness to make a potentially great vehicle quite a drag to own and actually unsafe, in the service seemingly of preventing lawsuits and satisfying the EPA. I know not all of this may apply to the Crosstrek Wilderness but if you test drive one, you would be advised to look for these flaws.
  • Art_Vandelay UAW leadership always brings up CEO pay. Yet they never bring up that their last deal would likely have been better for membership had they not been on the take from those same CEO's. UAW members have far more beef with their own leadership than senior management of their companies.
  • IH_Fever Another day, more bloviating between the poor downtrodden union leeches and the corporate thieves. But at least pantsuit guy got a nice new shirt.