By on September 24, 2020

2020 Hyundai Palisade - Image: Hyundai

Gauging economic health during the latter stages of 2020 is proving remarkably challenging. On the one hand, there’s grievous unemployment caused by COVID-19 shutdowns; on the other hand, bicycle sales are booming and backyard pool installations skyrocketed. Contrast the fact that the Dow Jones isn’t far from its six-month high with a 32 percent U.S. GDP loss in Q2.

The same sort of diametrically opposed outcomes are visible in the U.S. auto industry, as well. Only a handful of automakers still report monthly sales figures – Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Subaru, Toyota, Volvo – yet within those brands there were remarkably different results coming out as we exit the summer. We wanted to find the vehicles that destroyed reasonable recovery rates in August with significant year-over-year improvements. But we didn’t expect them all to originate from the same two automakers.

To get a clear gauge on the biggest overperformers, we excluded vehicles that didn’t produce at least 500 sales in August 2020, the kind of volume that should eliminate the wild fluctuations of severely low-volume models. Vehicles that are new to market or returning from hiatus (say hello to the second-generation Toyota Venza) are ineligible, as well.

Sales at the 10 remaining reporting brands are down 19 percent through the first two-thirds of 2020 and were still off last year’s pace by 18 percent in August 2020. Yet within those showrooms, there were six models that, despite everything that’s wrong with 2020, sold in far greater numbers last month than during the same period one year ago.

2021 Volvo V90 CC - Image: VolvoVolvo S90/V90/V90 CC: +379%
If only other brands were so kind as to break down their sales by bodystyle. Not only does Volvo delineate sedan and wagon sales, the Swedes also isolate V90 and V90 CC sales, specifically. Volvo produces 8 in 10 sales from its trio of XC utilities, but its small-car lineup was making a statement all summer long. In August, total 90 series sales jumped 379 percent to 676 units, which includes a 640-percent uptick in S90 sales (to 392), a near doubling of V90 sales (to 51), and a 276-percent increase in V90 CC sales (to 233). In August 2019, only 17 percent of Volvo sales in the U.S. came from cars. That figure rose to 20 percent last month.

Image: HyundaiHyundai Palisade: +56%
In just its second full month on the market, Hyundai reported 5,115 sales of the Palisade in August 2019. Palisade demand has been high ever since, and August 2020 volume was up 56 percent, or nearly 2,900 extra units. The 7,983 Palisades sold in August doesn’t sound terribly impressive when paired with the Honda Pilot (12,508 sales) or the Toyota Highlander (21,795). But the Palisade and its Kia stablemate combined for more than 90,000 total sales on year-to-date terms, 14-percent more than the Pilot and 45-percent more than the Subaru Ascent and Mazda CX-9 combined.

2018 Volvo XC40 - Image: VolvoVolvo XC40: +28%
Let’s be clear, Volvo isn’t about to put up record sales numbers in 2020. In fact, year-to-date volume was down 7 percent through the end of August, placing Volvo on a track to sell roughly 100,000 vehicles by year’s end, nowhere near the 139,067 sold in best-ever 2004. But thanks to the success of the XC40 and its two bigger siblings, sans pandemic Volvo is very likely to be tracking back toward those best-ever U.S. sales levels very soon. Even with an unexpected Q2, Volvo’s 2020 sales are still likely to be better than anything Volvo USA managed between 2008 and 2018. Prior to March, Volvo began the year on a trajectory for its best year since 2005. XC40 sales are up 13 percent this year and rose 28 percent to 1,933 units in August.

2019 Hyundai Kona front quarterHyundai Kona: +25%
North of the border, the Kona is Canada’s No.1 subcompact crossover. Through the first half of 2020 in the U.S., the Kona trailed the Chevrolet Trax, Subaru Crosstrek, Honda HR-V, and Kia Soul. Kona sales are surging of late, however, rising 25 percent to 7,998 units in August. That’s roughly 1,000 more sales than the Soul produced, though still below Crosstrek and HR-V totals.

2020 Volvo V60 - Image: V60Volvo S60/V60/V60 CC: +23%
In this SUV-mad world, who would’ve thought that wagon sales – yes, wagons – would drive a model line onto a list of over-performing models. To be frank, sales of the S60 sedan were still down 9 percent (to 1,094) in August, but the V60 (238) and V60 CC (458) combined for a 175-percent year-over-year improvement. Wagons remain uncommon, relatively speaking: Volvo’s SUV sales outnumbered wagon sales by more than 8-to-1 in August. But that’s quite different from the 22-to-1 margin from a year ago.

2020 Kia Telluride - Image: KiaKia Telluride: +19%
If the just-revealed fourth-generation Sorento can replicate the Telluride’s performance from the last year, expect big numbers. The Telluride competes in a more premium-priced market with more premium intentions yet still produced 7,588 sales in August. (Year-to-date sales are up 11 percent to 37,786.) The Sorento, if executed as well as this bigger SUV, should be the much higher-volume Kia SUV. Over the last decade, annual Sorento volume averaged more than 110,000 units, albeit without interference from a highly-regarded sibling.

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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26 Comments on “The Six Vehicles That Wildly Outdid Reasonable Sales Expectations in America in August 2020...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Kia/Hyundai are making some decent crossovers for the money and it appears the sales figures show that. Those Palisades and Tellurides are everywhere where I am and I live in the country where there’s mostly pick-up trucks

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    Wow, way to go Hyundai-Kia. Now put a proper geared transmission back in the Accent.

    • 0 avatar
      CKNSLS Sierra SLT

      Pig_Iron-
      I’m guessing those who buy an Accent feel lucky just to get in to a vehicle at a reasonable price….and could care less what the transmission is.

      Congrats to Hyundai/Kia for their sales.

  • avatar
    phxmotor

    Whst is this? Shill time for the Swede and the Koreans?

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Sales success is sales success. Doesn’t matter much who the sellers are.

    • 0 avatar
      FerrariLaFerrariFace

      Give credit where credit is due. Also, maybe you should re-read the second paragraph a little more carefully.

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      Koreans and Chinese? Is Volvo really a Swedish car company anymore?

      • 0 avatar
        barksdale

        Yes Volvo is Swedish – for now. Unless you want to start calling RAM trucks and Jeep Cherokees Italian and call Range Rover and Jaguar Indian… which doesn’t make sense to most people, and with good reason since the major operations are still in the respective countries of origin. When the design, engineering, and management are relocated to China (which might happen tbh), then your “Volvo is China is bad” routine will be stronger.

        • 0 avatar
          Superdessucke

          Sheesh, I was just asking a question, lighten up. Volvo is owned by a Chinese company and builds cars in China. The S90 is built in China as is the XC60. And of course the Volvo-variant Polestar. I think that distinguishes it from FCA.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    V90 is my dream machine but not with 4cyl

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      It’s still what I call my “lottery car.” T6 Inscription, Denim Blue with Blonde Nappa leather and the oak inlays please. Not huge sales numbers for sure. When it first came out it was by order only, but the website doesn’t say that specifically now. My local dealer has one in stock.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      European emissions standards are making the turbo 2.0 four-banger the go-to engine for a lot of cars. The V8 and inline sixes have nearly disappeared, and the V6 that replaced the V8 is next.

      Only in America is the inflation-adjusted price of 32-cent/gallon gas in 1970 available at $2.09/gallon. The V6 and optional V8 will survive here a little longer.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        Considering how much Volvo is asking for their vehicles, I’m not sure if the price of fuel is that big of a deal for buyers. Plus it isn’t like modern six or eight cylinders are getting 12MPG anymore. The S60 T6 AWD is rated at 25MPG combined. A 540i xDirve is also 25, an A6 3.0T is 24 and an ES350 is 26 (the Lexus also takes 87 octane although it isn’t AWD either).

    • 0 avatar
      crtfour

      Same here. I love the V90 and would probably have one if not for the 4-cylinder only. I’m a big fan of wagons but crossovers don’t do a thing for me.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Funny that Volvo can increase sales of not one but two car based models with sedans and wagons but Buick over at General Malaise Motors can’t figure out how to sell a single line of their most competitive product in years the Regal Sportback and TourX. But then again Mrs lifer Barra never cared because she intended to sell off Opel and then PSA group was bought up by FCA so there went that car line out the Window.

  • avatar
    Fred

    I’m impressed by the Volvo wagon. Makes my TSX Sportwagon look a bit stale. Then again I bet a Volvo wouldn’t be as trouble free.

  • avatar
    bd2

    Can’t really compare each of the Koreans to the Japanese Big 3, as Toyota can produce more RAV4s here than the entire yearly production capacity of Kia’s GA plant running 3 shifts.

    Combined, the Telluride/Palisade are well ahead of the Pilot on a monthly basis (now that Telluride production is back to full bore with capacity increased to 100k/yr), but still can’t match Highlander production levels.

    The Seltos is the better buy than the Kona.

  • avatar
    tonycd

    That Telluride is magic. It’s proven to be a license to print money, as well as a brand flagship pulling the whole Kia brand upmarket as its big sedans were never able to do. I’m sure they’ll jack up its price and still do a brisk business with it.

    Having never driven one, I’ll ask the other B&Bers: Is it the road manners that sell it? What’s it got?

  • avatar

    Poor old Russians think that Kia is a Cadillac. And Americans too.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    Sheesh, I was just asking a question, lighten up. Volvo is owned by a Chinese company and builds cars in China. The S90 is built in China as is the XC60. And of course the Volvo-variant Polestar. I think that distinguishes it from FCA.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Volvo may be showing a big increase year-over-year, but they are still selling tiny numbers of cars. So why does it really matter? Hopefully they are selling enough to stay around for a while.

    I’m all for driving things you don’t see 25 of in every parking lot though.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Kia is the next Toyota.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      They are certainly on a sales and model number upswing.
      The build quality is impressive, but the dependability and integrity of components is lacking. The massive H/K recalls for spontaneous fires, defective engines, electrical gremlins, etc. show that they still have a long way to go.

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