Posts By: Timothy Cain

By on November 30, 2020

We all asked Mazda for more power. It was a cry rising up from virtually every corner of the automotive industry – enthusiasts, observers, analysts, insiders, owners, fans – largely due to the fact that  Mazda marketed an entire lineup of vehicles as machines for keen drivers, and none of those machines offered meaningful horsepower. […]

By on November 25, 2020

2022 Honda Civic Sport. Image: HondaAs Toyota approached the launch of the all-new, 2018 Toyota Camry in mid-2017, the automaker telegraphed its intentions very plainly.

“I think you’re going to see the entire sedan market pick up,” then vice-president Jack Hollis said. “We want the new Camry to rehabilitate the segment,” Toyota’s Moritaka Yoshida said at the time.

Toyota wasn’t alone.

“I don’t expect to sell fewer Accords in 2018 with this great new product,” Honda’s sales vice-president, Ray Mikiciuk, said later on in 2017. Accord sales fell 10 percent in 2018 before sliding 8 percent in 2019.

One year later, Nissan’s Dennis Le Vot worked up to the launch of the 2019 Altima by suggesting that when it comes to passenger car market share: “We think 30 percent is the bottom.” Passenger car market share fell below 30 percent in 2019, the new Altima’s first full year.

Now we’re months away from the arrival of the 11th-generation Honda Civic. You know the drill: major automaker launches major car nameplate, major automaker suggests car market will stop the free-fall, major automaker hypes possibility of car market healing.

We’re skeptical.

(Read More…)

By on October 21, 2020

2021 Toyota Camry XSE black - Image: ToyotaThe Toyota Camry may well go down as one of the ultimate soldiers in the American automotive marketplace: shooting straight despite distractions, marching forward undeterred by the terrain, somehow finding small victories when the losses are mounting, always ready to carry new recruits on its shoulders.

Somehow, amidst all of the recent economic turmoil and political unrest, and healthcare crises, the Toyota Camry’s U.S. sales trendline is outperforming the market at large while also embarrassing its direct rivals.

In one sense, the Camry’s just doing what the Camry’s always done. Winning.

In another sense, the Camry’s doing the unexpected. It’s winning at a point in time when everyone else seems to be losing, at least to some degree, and it’s winning in a major way just as its specific category approaches an inflection point. Is the midsize sedan segment, broadly speaking, on its last legs? Or is a post-shutdown pandemic performance like the Camry’s indicative of a midsize-sedan segment that’s finally set to round the corner? (Read More…)

By on October 16, 2020

2020 Honda Ridgeline 2021 Honda Ridgeline 2 - Image: HondaIn 2006, the first-generation Honda Ridgeline’s first full model year, Americans acquired 50,193 Ridgelines.

Honda believes 2021’s refreshed Ridgeline will mark a return to those glory days.

The first Ridgeline’s tenure was marked by an impressive beginning, albeit impressive only by the most modest of standards. But that Ridgeline’s performance in the U.S. marketplace rapidly grew worse as sales fell consecutively in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011; sliding 81 percent over the course of a half-decade.

Honda’s second kick at the can in 2016 (for the 2017 model year) resulted in a much better pickup, but still a pickup most buyers won’t consider. Almost completely on the basis of new front-end styling, with no engineering changes to speak of, Honda believes that the second-generation Ridgeline will enter its fifth model year and turn from being a truck that produces roughly 33,000 sales per year into a truck that attracts 50,000 buyers per year.

And Honda actually means it. (Read More…)

By on October 6, 2020

2020 Toyota RAV4 and 2020 Toyota Camry - Image: ToyotaStrong results from its best performers pushed a pair of Toyotas to familiar positions atop 2020’s third-quarter best-seller lists.

Q3 was a rollercoaster ride for automobile manufacturers as low inventory plagued dealers who enjoyed better-than-expected demand. Following COVID-19’s late-Q1/early-Q2 outbreak across the United States, mass shutdowns and severe economic hardship produced catastrophic results. Total U.S. auto sales between April and June plunged by one-third, year-over-year, a 33 percent collapse worth 1.5 million lost sales.

The third quarter, however, was markedly different, especially as the weeks wore on and pent-up demand was married to timely incentives. By September, Acura, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Lexus, Mazda, Subaru, Toyota, and Volvo were all reporting year-over-year improvement, along with General Motors and Ford Motor Company.

At the top of overarching vehicle categories, strong September results pushed typical top Toyota contenders – the RAV4 and Camry – to the top of the quarterly sales charts. While the Honda Civic had held America’s best-selling car lead as recently as the end of August, Toyota Camry sales jumped 22 percent to 28,362 during the month of September. Camry sales remain down by more than a fifth year-to-date, but Q3 volume was off by just 4 percent. (Read More…)

By on October 6, 2020

Image: FordBetter than 16 percent of the new vehicles sold in the United States in the third quarter of 2020 were full-size pickup trucks, an increase created by relatively steady truck sales in an unsteady world.

And who’s to thank? Ford, primarily.  (Read More…)

By on September 28, 2020

Auto high beams were not the feature I thought I’d miss when our family switched from a 2018 Honda Odyssey to a 2019 Honda Ridgeline. I spent more than three decades living in urban environments. High beam use was limited to vacations or weekend getaways in country idylls. Even after three years of rural life, […]

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.

(Read More…)

By on September 23, 2020

2021 Mazda CX30 Turbo - Image: MazdaPut down your guns. Take your ball and go home.

The war is over. The game has moved on.

Perhaps we’re being just a tad melodramatic, or perhaps we’re injecting a dose of reality into our oil-laced veins. The hot hatch of tomorrow is not the hot hatch of yesterday. In Enthusiasts v. The Market, the 2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo is just the latest piece of evidence unabashedly layered on top of the auto industry’s mountain of discovery.

The arrival of a small Mazda crossover with all-wheel drive and 320 lb-ft of torque – which doesn’t exactly sound like impending doom, come to think of it – is certainly not the only sign that the market has shifted. Remember, the ordinary Porsche 911 Carrera can no longer be acquired with a manual shifter; the front-wheel-drive coupe is extinct; and America’s best-selling SUV outsells America’s best-selling car by more than 40 percent.

No, the CX-30 Turbo is just one sign that the market has shifted, but is it more than that? Is the 250-horsepower CX-30 laying the groundwork for a shift in how we define hot hatches? And if so, would that be so bad? And furthermore, is the CX-30 really all that different from the hot hatches we’ve known and loved? (Read More…)

By on August 17, 2020

2020 Nissan Versa sedan - Image: Nissan

No Yaris. No Fiesta. No Sonic. No Mazda2. No Fit.

America’s subcompact car segment is decimated. According to Tyson Jominy, the vice president of data and analytics at J.D. Power, 40 percent of last year’s subcompact sales are gone. Jominy doesn’t mean “fewer sales.” He means that the nameplates responsible for 40 percent of the sales are gone.

And is it any wonder? As recently as 2014, subcompact cars produced 3.8 percent of all U.S. auto sales. Collectively, the few remaining subcompact cars now account for just 1.4 percent of the American light vehicle market.

At the current rate of decline, fewer than 1 percent of the vehicles sold in America in 2022 will be subcompact cars. But we all know the current rate of decline is hardly an accurate harbinger. If subcompacts own 1 percent of the market in 2021, we’d be surprised.  (Read More…)

By on August 11, 2020

2020 Honda Civic Coupe Sport - Image: HondaThe disappearance of midsize cars, the dismal performance of traditional family sedans, and the eradication of affordable small cars account for the lion’s share of headlines when auto reporters discuss the dwindling American passenger car market. But tucked inside America’s car sector are a handful of fun cars – intentionally impractical two-doors – that muster a mere fraction of the market share they produced just 10 years ago.

In other words, you can’t buy a Honda Accord Coupe or a Kia Forte Koup or a Buick Cascada or a Lexus IS250C in 2020 precisely because buyers of such cars no longer exist in sufficient numbers. Scratch that: buyers of such cars didn’t exist in sufficient numbers when the option was provided to justify offering comparable successors.

How bad is it? We asked J.D. Power’s vice president of data and analytics, Tyson Jominy. And we got answers.  (Read More…)

By on July 23, 2020

2019 Honda Ridgeline EX-L PEI potato field - Image: © Timothy Cain1 out of every 100 pickup truck buyers in the United States chooses the Honda Ridgeline.

That sounds to me like exclusivity. That’s a strong whiff of individuality I sniff. It’s positively road-less-traveled kind of material. And I’m hopelessly drawn toward vehicles that operate way outside the mainstream.

Therefore, in the third model year of the second-generation Ridgeline’s tenure, I swapped our Honda Odyssey for a 2019 Honda Ridgeline to use as the family steed. What else are you going to buy when your vehicular wish list includes exterior and interior cargo space, four driven wheels, reasonable fuel economy, comfortable seating for five, high safety ratings, killer resale value, and a ton of standard equipment? (Read More…)

By on July 21, 2020

2020 Chrysler Pacifica Limited with S Appearance - Image: Chrysler“How bad is it? And how bad is it going to be?”

Those were our questions five months ago when describing the American minivan category’s paltry 408,982 sales in calendar year 2019. At that time, the rate of decline experienced by the segment suggested that, “America won’t even acquire 300,000 minivans next year.”

Enter novel coronavirus and, consequently, a second-quarter in which auto sales in the United States tumbled by a third. For perspective, that’s 1.5 million fewer sales between April and June of 2020 than during the equivalent period one year earlier.

Meanwhile, as quarantines and lockdowns and isolations and shutdowns caused new vehicle demand to shrink, the previously beloved minivan segment saw its share of the U.S. market absolutely crater. (Read More…)

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…)

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