Posts By: Timothy Cain

By on June 23, 2020

2020 Subaru Forester green - Image: SubaruAfter a streak of 11 consecutive years of U.S. sales growth for Subaru, a period in which the brand doubled its market share to 4.1 percent, “We’ll start a new streak next year,” the brand’s U.S. CEO Tom Doll says of 2020.

At any other point in history, the declines reported by Subaru over the last few months would be calamitous. Yet Subaru’s year-over-year losses in 2020, a year torn to shreds by COVID-19, have not been as severe as anticipated. Moreover, bright spots have been more numerous than expected.

The company, as a result, is now planning for 2020 to end as the brand’s sixth-best on record.  (Read More…)

By on June 4, 2020

Sport Mazda dealer storefront - Image: MazdaMonth after month, as the Mazda product lineup improves and as plaudits pour in, we chronicle the company’s tragic dearth of U.S. sales success. The automaker’s goals for performance in the American marketplace are modest: a good 2 percent market share, for example. Yet generating meaningful demand for deserving products – the second-generation CX-9 and the new-for-2019 Mazda 3, as examples – has proven remarkably challenging.

At least it was remarkably challenging, until a pandemic battered and bruised the U.S. auto market beyond all recognition. U.S. auto sales in the first quarter of 2020 tumbled by more than 12 percent, yet Mazda sales during the same period were off by just 4 percent. Mazda market share ticked up to 1.9 percent in Q1.

But it was Mazda’s May 2020 performance, in which the brand’s sales in the United States dropped by fewer than 300 units, that Mazda appeared downright hopeful. You won’t be surprised to learn the market fared much, much worse.

(Read More…)

By on May 13, 2020

2018 Toyota Camry XSE - Image: Toyota CanadaAfter 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. (Read More…)

By on May 12, 2020

Image: FordThe arrival of a reincarnated Ford Ranger in 2019, along with the debut of the Jeep Gladiator, caused midsize truck market share to climb to a 13-year high in America’s pickup category. In fact, over the span of six years, midsize trucks nearly doubled their share of America’s truck market.

The primary cause of those market share gains, the new Ranger, ended its abbreviated first sales year on the midsize podium roughly 33,000 sales back of the Chevrolet Colorado.

In the early days of 2020, however, the Ford Ranger is running nearly dead even with the Colorado. But no longer is the Ranger driving the midsize pickup truck market forward. The segment’s share of the truck market is backsliding.  (Read More…)

By on April 24, 2020

2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T - Image: HyundaiSales fell 27 percent. Brands such as Chrysler, Infiniti, Jeep, and GMC were in torments; shedding volume as demand withered. Subaru showed signs of relative strength, however, as did the Toyota RAV4. Passenger car market share was on the rise and…

Wait a second — we’re clearly not talking about the frightening first quarter of 2020. Scan the auto sales reports from 11 years ago and aside from a few familiar patterns, the U.S. light vehicle market of 2008 and 2009 did not resemble the U.S. light vehicle market of 2020.

Year-over-year, 2009 volume plunged 27 percent in the United States as a global recession melted home equity, eliminated jobs, and sent some of the biggest automakers in the world into a tailspin. Over the course of two years, auto sales actually dropped 35 percent, a loss of 5.7 million units.

Yet by 2012, three years after the collapse and three years into a recovery that would eventually produce record annual volume, 17 major auto brands (more than 100,000 U.S. sales/year) were selling in greater levels than they had in 2008. Meanwhile, seven other auto brands had yet to fully bounce back.

(Read More…)

By on April 21, 2020

2018 Honda Odyssey EX Lunar Silver rear -Image: © Timothy CainIn spite of considerations involving pickups, downsizing, and three-row utility vehicles, our family ended up in our second consecutive Honda Odyssey in the spring of 2018. This time, against conventional wisdom, we were early adopters of the new-for-2018 fifth-generation Odyssey. Against my own internal bias, we acquired a vehicle with a nine-speed automatic transmission, nine-speeds having disappointed me previously in everything from the Chrysler 200 and Pacifica to the Fiat 500X, Jeep Renegade, Jeep Cherokee, and Honda’s own Acura TLX and MDX.

And against conventional buying patterns, we opted for one of the five remaining vans on offer in the North American marketplace. Changes in the typical family vehicle buyer’s tastes have seen demand for vans plummet: segment-wide volume was down 15 percent in the U.S. in 2019; 2020 minivan volume will fall for a fourth consecutive year. Current minivan market share stands at just 2 percent, down from 4 percent in 2011 and 6 percent in 2006. In a market that (quite unpredictably) slid by more than 12 percent in 2020’s first-quarter, van sales were down 21 percent, a loss of over 21,000 U.S. sales.

It’s a bizarre outcome given the undeniable, incontrovertible, unquestionable fact that the Honda Odyssey is the best vehicle on the market. (Read More…)

By on March 13, 2020

2018 Lexus LS500 AWD - Image: LexusOver the course of three decades, Lexus has accomplished remarkable feats in the U.S. marketplace. While the modern luxury landscape proves how challenging it is for a (non-Tesla) upstart such as Genesis to garner even an ounce of market share, Toyota’s premium brand generated relatively high volume levels from the get-go.

By 1991, only the third year on the market, Lexus had already overtaken all other import premium brands. By 1998, Lexus was able to top monthly luxury sales leaderboards. Then in 2000, Lexus became America’s top-selling premium marque. The Lexus LS, the brand’s flagship sedan, was an especially important piece of the puzzle in those early days. In fact, when Lexus first outsold Mercedes-Benz and BMW on an annual basis, the LS was one of just three Lexus nameplates. Nearly 43,000 copies of the LS were sold in 1990, for example, at a time when BMW’s 7 Series did just a quarter of that volume; and with Mercedes-Benz some 17,000 units abaft.

But as the LS gained license to move upmarket, as the Great Recession came and went, as the tastes of luxury car buyers became the tastes of luxury SUV buyers, the LS became something of a forgotten flagship. By the end of the fourth-generation LS’s tenure, Lexus was selling barely more than 300 LSs per month in America.

Yet with the launch of a new model in 2018, Lexus intended to dramatically increase the U.S. sales volume for its biggest and most costly sedan. And if at first it looked as though Lexus might just have forecasted accurately, a second glance reveals just how far off the mark even Lexus can be. (Read More…)

By on March 6, 2020

2019 Mazda Skyactiv D CX-5 Diesel - Image: MazdaWhen it was rumors and innuendo, when it was delayed, when it was confirmed but unattainable, when it was launched, when it was actually under the hood of a vehicle we could drive on this continent, we’ve covered the story of Mazda’s diesel engine.

It’s a 2.2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with a measly 168 horsepower but a stirring 290 lb-ft of stump-pulling torque. It resides not in the Mazda 6 for which it was originally intended but rather the highly acclaimed Mazda CX-5. It’s available only in the CX-5’s top-spec Signature trim, and only then at a $4,110 premium that drives the price up to an eye-watering $41,000. Its fuel economy gains are so minimal that the economic case for the CX-5 diesel is nonexistent.

And after one model year and just enough demand to help (in some small way) propel the CX-5 to yet another record sales year, the Mazda CX-5 diesel is missing. Truant. Unaccounted for.

Moreover, there’s no timetable for the CX-5 diesel’s return. (Read More…)

By on February 27, 2020

2020 Toyota Camry AWD 2 - Image: Toyota

In a shrinking U.S. midsize sedan market, Toyota’s slice of the pie is the biggest. In fact, despite its own year-over-year decline in 2019, the Toyota Camry’s slice of the U.S. midsize market actually increased to 25 percent last year because its decline was comparatively modest.

Now Toyota has its sights set on a corner of the midsize car market the brand has left uncontested for nearly three decades. Not since the Gulf War (no, not that one; this one) has Toyota fielded an all-wheel-drive Camry in the United States. And just as Toyota exerts its control in the overarching midsize car segment with a heavy hand, the automaker expects to do the same in the all-wheel-drive sub-segment of the same category.

Toyota has designs on 50,000 annual Camry AWD sales in the United States.

Oh, Subaru Legacy, where doth Toyota’s success leave thee? In the shadows. (Read More…)

By on February 18, 2020

2019 Honda Odyssey - Image: HondaSales of minivans in the United States in 2019 plunged below Great Recession levels as every member of the existing quintet reported sharp year-over-year declines.

The 408,982 sales produced by the Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey, Kia Sedona, and Toyota Sienna in calendar year 2019 were a far cry from the 1.1 million sales produced by the sector in 2005, or even the 553,506 sold three years ago. But after hovering just below or above 3 percent of the market for half a dozen years, and after overall volume showed signs of recuperation through the middle half of the last decade, the segment’s 2019 collapse suggests we haven’t reached bottom yet.

At the current rate of decline, America won’t even acquire 300,000 minivans next year.

It’s a shame.  (Read More…)

By on February 5, 2020

2020 Mazda 3 hatchback grey - Image: MazdaFinally, Mazda appears to be on something of a roll. After U.S. volume at the underdog automaker tumbled to a seven-year low in 2019, January 2020 sales at Mazda jumped 18 percent.

Better yet, January marked the fourth consecutive month of year-over-year gains at Mazda, an essential turnaround for a marque that kicked off 2019 with seven consecutive months of decline. Over the last four months, Mazda’s U.S. sales actually grew by nearly 9,000 sales, a 10-percent uptick.

So, all is well? If Mazda sustains this level of volume growth over the next 11 months, Mazda would follow up its seven-year low from 2019 with a 26-year annual sales high.

The chance for major growth will most definitely fall on the shoulders of the new CX-30, because the fourth-generation Mazda 3’s tragically awful 2019 was followed up by a January in which the 3 rolled over and played dead.  (Read More…)

By on January 28, 2020

Trail Trek Tour 2019 - 2019 Ford Ranger FX4 (1) - Image: FordWith best-ever sales from the segment-leading Toyota Tacoma, sales of midsize pickup trucks in the United States jumped 22 percent in 2019. That’s nearly nine times the rate of growth experienced by full-size pickup trucks in the U.S. last year, enough to drive market share of the smaller trucks to a 13-year high.

In fact, for the first time since the economic collapse of 2009, more than one-fifth of the pickups sold in America were not full-size trucks.

The Tacoma, which only inched forward in 2019, is not deserving of all the credit. New and reborn pickup truck nameplates contributed 130,000 sales to the midsize ledger over the last 12 months. That was more than enough to dramatically shake up the segment. (Read More…)

By on January 24, 2020

2020 Mazda 3 Hatchback grey - Image: MazdaThere are three main criteria for measuring the degree to which 2019 was a disastrous year for the Mazda 3 in the United States small car marketplace.

First, judge the Mazda 3 based on key competitors. Mazda 3 sales tumbled 21 percent to 50,741 units during a year in which the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla levelled off north of 300,000 units, in excess of six times the Mazda’s total. The Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra, and Volkswagen Jetta were all at least twice as popular as the Mazda 3; the Kia Forte nearly so. The Subaru Impreza outsold the Mazda, too.

Second, consider how the Mazda 3 fared in comparison with its own historical impact. Over the course of the previous 29 years, Mazda USA averaged nearly 84,000 annual compact Mazda sales – 2019’s total was 39-percent shy of that average; 59-percent below the 3’s 2012 peak performance.

Finally, there’s a method that involves adding a rider to either one of the first two functions: the Mazda 3 accomplished these ignominious feats as a highly regarded, all-wheel-drive-available, new-generation car. Imagine Ford launching an all-new F-150 and watching sales plummet to a 29-year low.

And yet, could 2020 be even worse for the Mazda 3? An Outback-ified version of the 3, the CX-30, is sliding into the lineup at a time when sales of small crossovers are surging. The Mazda 3 can’t compete with the Civic and Corolla. It can’t compete with its own memory. What if it can’t compete with its own sibling? (Read More…)

By on December 19, 2019

Jeep Wrangler JK towing old Jeep Kensington - Image: © Timothy CainFrom the characters that control it to the engines at the heart of it, from the history that hems it in to the future that waits for it, from the designs that define it to the manufacturing that fulfills it, the automotive industry has something for everyone.

That’s why we cover it. That’s why we read about it. That’s why we drive and research and analyze, why we memorize specs and memorialize eras, why we wax eloquent when given the opportunity to explain the inherent balance of an inline-six, and why we correct people when they say, “CVT transmission.”

It’s also why we develop deep-seated automotive opinions that have as much chance of coming undone as your Jordan versus LeBron GOAT verdict. (Jordan, obviously. Gretzky, Federer, Mays, and Brady, too, for the record.)

Despite the fact that there was no shortage of automotive opinions dancing around in my head in those twilight moments before sleep each night at the beginning of the year, I nevertheless developed more conclusions over the course of 2019. After having little time to think of much else, and after driving hundreds of different cars, here’s an exhaustive (and exhausting) 17-part sampling. (Read More…)

By on December 17, 2019

2020 Toyota Prius and RAV4 Hybrid - Images: Toyota CanadaYou weren’t crazy. In 2000, when the Toyota Prius first arrived in the United States only slightly behind the Honda Insight, it wasn’t unreasonable for you to wonder whether the odd little duck had a future. And to be fair, it didn’t. It wasn’t until Toyota launched a new generation of the Prius as a more practical liftback for MY2004 that a hybridized future appeared plausible.

With little in the way of competition, Toyota sold 107,897 copies of the Prius in the U.S. in 2005. That made the Prius more popular than the Volkswagen Jetta and Mazda 3; more popular than the Toyota RAV4, as well. By 2012, Toyota had expanded the Prius family to include a plug-in, a subcompact Prius C, and a Prius V wagon. The result: U.S. Prius sales peaked at 236,655 units in 2012.

And then, for the Prius, it all fell apart. Half a decade later, total Prius sales were less than half that strong. In 2019, Toyota is tracking toward fewer than 70,000 U.S. Prius sales, the worst year for the nameplate since 2004.

Yet Toyota is on a pace for its hybrid family to earn roughly 226,000 sales in 2019. Granted, those aren’t 2012 levels. And selling at that level does require an array of hybrid options. But regardless, it’s clear Toyota has found its Prius replacement. As the Prius’s star fades, the RAV4 Hybrid is now Toyota’s primary hybrid volume driver. (Read More…)

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