Posts By: Timothy Cain

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…)

By on October 29, 2019

2019 Toyota Camry SE white - Image: Toyota

Remember the midsize sedan death watch?

When TTAC introduced the series, Americans were still acquiring over 2 million midsize cars per year. That fact, the 2M+ aspect of the segment and the 1M+ nature of the top models, combined with the category’s 12-percent market share, caused many readers to doubt the possibility that any other intermediate sedans would ever bid farewell.

Others have, of course, fallen by the wayside. Joining the long-lost Mercury Milan, Pontiac G6, Saturn Aura, Suzuki Kizashi, Mitsubishi Galant, and Dodge Avenger in that great midsize parking lot in the sky are cars such as the Chrysler 200 and Ford Fusion. The Chevrolet Malibu is not long for this world.

Meanwhile, sales of the remaining midsize cars continue to tank. The notion that America’s midsize segment is a reliable provider of more than 2 million units per year is now cast by the wayside. Americans are likely to purchase and lease fewer than 1.4 million midsize cars in 2019. That’s 15-percent fewer midsize cars than Americans drove home in 2009 during the depths of the Great Recession. (Read More…)

By on October 22, 2019

2020 Chevrolet Corvette

There’s a theory – and when I say there’s a theory, I mean that I quickly concocted one night as sleep began its wash over me – that says the Corvette you love most is the Corvette of your licensing year.

For me, that means the revolutionary C5 Corvette must, by law, take its place as my favourite Corvette. That bulbous rear end, those pop-up headlights, and three top options are memorable aspects to the fifth-generation Corvette. So too is the downmarket interior highlighted by miserable seats, surprisingly decent fuel economy, and remarkably strong sales figures of roughly 30,000 units per year in the U.S.

Objectively, of course, the Corvettes C6 and C7 are markedly, distinctly, better cars. They don’t abide by my favoritism rule, but they’re better cars. Thus, just as I always aspired to ownership of a new C5, I shifted that desire to the C6 in 2005 and the C7 in 2014. The Corvette’s consistently reasonable entry price has always made that aspiration relatively attainable.

But everything has changed with the arrival of the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray C8. No, it hasn’t become unobtainable, but it’s not clear that it’s an objectively better car. And even if it is, I still wouldn’t want one. (Read More…)

By on September 27, 2019

2020 Mazda 3 Hatchback - Image: Mazda2018 was the worst year for U.S. sales of the Mazda 3 since Bill Clinton was president. Back in 2000, the last time Mazda failed to sell more than 65,000 compacts, the Mazda 3 wasn’t even the Mazda 3 – it was the Mazda Protege.

Of course, 2018 was a different kind of year for Mazda’s primary passenger car. Mazda was putting its aging, third-generation Mazda 3 out to pasture in an increasingly anti-car market; preparing instead to launch a stylish new Mazda 3 with an all-wheel-drive option that would (theoretically) steer buyers away from crossovers.

That new car, however, is faring far worse in the U.S. market. Buyers are steering clear of Mazda’s newest car. Year-over-year, Mazda 3 volume is down by more than a fifth. In fact, 2019 is on track to be the lowest-volume year of the Protege/3 era.

Mazda is responding with a 2020 Mazda 3 that will hit the market with a higher base price. And significantly higher equipment levels. (Read More…)

By on September 26, 2019

2019 Subaru AScent - Image: Subaru

Subaru didn’t believe the Ascent would add much to the brand’s monthly U.S. sales totals.

A year ago, it looked like Subaru’s forecasts were right on target. Roughly 5,000 U.S. sales per month? Check. Incremental brand-wide growth? Of course. Negligible impact on competitors? Indeed.

But the Ascent’s early capacity for helping Subaru keep its loyal customers loyal has evolved into something quite a bit more useful for the constantly-growing Japanese brand. Ascent volume is rising, rapidly so, and Subaru’s unparalleled streak of year-over-year sales growth – now at 93 consecutive months – now appears in little danger of collapsing. (Read More…)

By on August 29, 2019

2019 Toyota Tundra TRD PROWith remarkable consistency, Toyota has sold over 2.2 million Tundra pickups over the truck’s 20-year history.

Toyota began building the first-generation Tundra in Indiana in May 1999; the truck went on sale 20 years ago this summer. Not surprisingly, Toyota’s celebratory words as the Tundra turns 20 relate in large part to longevity: a million-mile ‘07 Tundra; an ‘18 driven repeatedly through a forest fire on rescue missions.

It’s not as though Toyota is going to flaunt any newfangled technology or headline-grabbing capabilities. The Tundra is basically the same truck it’s been since production of the second-gen Tundra began in Texas in 2007.

Just as the truck fails to evolve, so too does its sales performance: the Tundra just keeps on selling. (Read More…)

By on August 20, 2019

All 2019 Minivans Available: Odyssey, Sienna, Pacifica, Grand Caravan, Sedona - Images: ManufacturersThe minivan as we know it is not dead. Credit for the minivan segment’s still-beating heart belongs in large part to the disappearance of most contenders – so few competitors remain that a handful of remaining minivan nameplates may well still sell in six figures in the United States in 2019.

Most automakers determined years ago that sticking their forks into this pie isn’t worth it; the pie was just too small. The absence of GM, Ford, Hyundai, and Volkswagen, along with the steady rise of the family-oriented crossover, caused the pie’s shrinkage to continue. Nissan and Mazda left, too, and the pie kept shrinking.

In fact, the rate at which the minivan pie is shrinking has picked up speed. Auto sales are slowing, to be fair, but U.S. minivan sales volume in 2019 is slowing nearly seven times faster. And no, for FCA and Toyota and Honda and Kia, the whole “bigger slice of a smaller pie” argument just isn’t holding water these days.  (Read More…)

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