The Six Vehicles That Wildly Outdid Reasonable Sales Expectations in America in August 2020
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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