Midsize Sedan Deathwatch #17: Trouble In October 2017, Unless Your Name's Honda Accord
U.S. sales of midsize cars plunged 16 percent to fewer than 130,000 units in October 2017, the lowest-volume month for the midsize sedan category since the winter doldrums of January.
For almost every player, from the forgotten Mazda 6 to the recently revamped Hyundai Sonata to the all-new Toyota Camry, there were fewer U.S. buyers in October 2017 than in October 2016. In most cases, far fewer. Hyundai Sonata volume plunged 49 percent, year-over-year, as Hyundai pulls away from daily rentals, clarifying just how little retail demand the Sonata truly musters. Double-digit percentage drops were also reported by the Kia Optima, Subaru Legacy, Volkswagen Passat, and Mazda 6.
But the sharp October tumble wasn’t reserved for each member of the midsize category. Newly launched this fall, U.S. sales of the 10th-generation 2018 Honda Accord predictably improved in October, driving Honda’s share of the segment up four points to 21 percent.
It’s a familiar story.
Midsize Sedan Deathwatch #16: The Decline of the Midsize Class's Middle Class
Ever more minor midsize players continued to see their share of America’s midsize sedan segment dwindle in September 2017. The cause: domination on the part of America’s two major midsize cars.
The all-new 2018 Toyota Camry enjoyed its first full month of meaningful availability in September and produced a 13-percent year-over-year U.S. sales improvement as a result. Meanwhile, Honda is clearing out remaining 2017 Accords in advance of the all-new 2018 Accord’s arrival this fall. Honda’s efforts produced a 10-percent uptick compared with September 2016.
Yet despite the big gains from the two major players, the upper class, the midsize segment still declined 7 percent in September because of sharp declines by many members of the middle class.
That means Camry and Accord market share continues to rise. That means the slice of the market earned by the middle class continues to shrink.
Midsize Sedan Deathwatch #15: Toyota Camry Proves to Be a Killer In August 2017
The launch of the all-new 2018 Toyota Camry began in July 2017 and delivered a big boost to America’s best-selling midsize car in August 2017.
As its competitors combined for a 12-percent loss valued at nearly 16,000 fewer sales than in August 2016, Toyota Camry sales jumped 13 percent, a gain of 4,187 sales. That figure includes 6,805 new-gen Camrys imported from Japan, where the Camry’s home market factory is being relied upon while Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky, assembly plant gathers steam for the entirely different Toyota New Global Architecture.
With falling sales across much of the category and rising volume at the top seller, Toyota got exactly what it called for in August 2017: a huge market share increase. But did the Camry provide the rumored boost to the segment overall? Quite clearly no, not yet.
All of the New 2018 Toyota Camrys Sold in America in July Were Japan Imports
We learned early in July that many of the early 2018 Toyota Camrys available in Toyota’s U.S. showrooms wouldn’t be built in Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky, assembly plant.
Through June, not a single one of the 2016 and 2017 Camrys sold in America were imported. But all of the 2018 Toyota Camrys sold in July came across the Pacific from Japan.
Granted, most of the Camrys leaving Toyota showrooms are still old new Camrys, not new new Camrys.
2018 Hyundai Sonata Will Not Kill the Crossover - Hyundai Keeps Its Hopes Humble
Launched for the 2015 model year, the seventh Hyundai Sonata was not the avant-garde successor to the 2011-2014 Sonata for which many hoped. The new Sonata, while objectively better in virtually every way, was missing a key ingredient.
For 2018, Hyundai has thoroughly refreshed the seventh-generation Sonata, hoping that a far more aggressive front fascia will draw more eyes. Hyundai went much further than the superficial, however, by stiffening the Sonata’s structure, upgrading to an eight-speed automatic, and including more safety equipment as standard fit.
Yet while Toyota and Honda believe their new Camry and new Accord can ignite the midsize sedan segment in a bid to wage war against a crossover onslaught, Hyundai’s goals for the refreshed 2018 Sonata are far more modest. Much more modest. Más modesto.
Toyota Sees All Upside for 2018 Camry If Rivals Decide to Focus Purely on SUVs
As Toyota watches its RAV4 quickly climb sales charts, the Japanese behemoth estimates it will sell fewer copies of its new-for-2018 eighth-generation Camry than it has in six years.
According to Reuters, Toyota is targeting 30,000 monthly Camry sales in the U.S. once the 2018 model fully takes over. That’s 360,000 Camry sales per year, well below the 412,000-unit average Toyota has managed over the last half-decade; 7-percent below last year’s output.
Toyota considers the thought of overall midsize sedan demise “inconceivable” but is by no means blind to the segment’s evolution. Recent deaths, such as the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger, followed the disappearance of the Mitsubishi Galant, Suzuki Kizashi, and domestic nameplate removals, as well. Remember the Mercury Milan, Pontiac G6, and Saturn Aura?
But as the midsize segment struggles, Toyota looks down from its lofty perch and sees the odds increasingly turning in the Camry’s favor. “If other automakers left the sedan market to focus more on SUVs,” Camry chief engineer Masato Katsumata says, “that would be an opportunity to expand our market share of the segment.”
We Know Crossovers Are Killing Midsize Sedans, but Now Compact Cars Are Beating Midsize Cars
Through the first-half of 2017, midsize car sales plunged 18 percent as nearly every nameplate in the category suffered from declining sales.
Year-over-year, sales of the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Subaru Legacy, Mazda 6, and Chrysler 200 collectively fell by nearly 200,000 units.
We know where the buyers are going. Compact crossovers such as the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, and Nissan Rogue — each of which now sell more often than even the top-selling midsize cars — are 2017’s soup du jour: more space for Buster the Bernese, better sightlines for the driver, all-wheel drive for those weekly Rubicon excursions, and a superior image to boot.
But if the trend we’ve seen through the first-half of 2017 holds, midsize cars won’t merely lose the U.S. sales race to compact crossovers. 2017 appears primed to be the first year in history in which compact cars also outsell midsize cars.
Midsize Sedan Deathwatch #13: 2017's Grim First-half 198,000-unit Loss
Midsize car sales volume decreased by nearly 200,000 units in the United States during the first-half of 2017.
Year-over-year, that 18-percent decline was caused by virtually every member of America’s midsize sedan fleet. Escaping unscathed, on its own, was the Volkswagen Passat, though Passat sales are significantly lower than they were in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.
Aside from the Passat, midsize cars are selling much less often this year than last at every competing automaker; from the top-selling Toyota Camry to the slow-selling Mazda 6, from the all-wheel-drive-optional Ford Fusion to the all-wheel-drive-standard Subaru Legacy; from the new-last-year Chevrolet Malibu to the never-again-new Chrysler 200.
Most automakers, however, are blessed to possess similarly priced compact crossovers that are making up all, much, or some of the slack.
Temporary Shutdowns Insufficient; GM Eliminates Shift at Chevrolet Malibu's Kansas Assembly Plant
In September 2017, General Motors will be forced to lay off a large number of workers at its Kansas City, Kansas assembly plant where the Chevrolet Malibu is built.
Only two days ago we learned General Motors would stretch the Fairfax assembly plant’s summer shutdown by an additional three weeks — from two to five in 2017 — because of excessive Malibu inventory. But as GM seeks to maintain a more reasonable grip on incentives than in the past, the only remaining way of reducing an inventory glut is to stop building so many cars.
Unfortunately for some of GM’s Kansas employees, the announcement of a temporary shutdown — the third this year according to the Kansas City Business Journal — will be an insufficient means of reducing stock. The Kansas City Star reports the number of shifts at the plant will be reduced to two in late September.
After Chevrolet’s U.S. midsize sales rapidly elevated to a 36-year high in calendar year 2016 during the ninth-generation Malibu’s launch, volume has declined hard and fast in early 2017.
Now Is the Time to Get Yourself a Midsize Sedan on a Dirt Cheap Lease Deal
“Stepping up to a midsize is basically a no-brainer for buyers at this point,” CarsDirect’s senior price analyst Alex Bernstein tells TTAC.
With demand for midsize sedans drying up, deals on aging models are warming up.
Now in its sixth model year, the 2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T S — the entry-level Passat — is available in June for a 36-month lease at $189 per month and $1,999 due at signing.
The 2017 Honda Accord, a new version of which is due later this year, is also available in June in basic LX trim on the same terms.
Meanwhile, the mid-grade 2017 Toyota Camry SE 2.5, set to be replaced in the coming months by an all-new model, is likewise available in June for $189 per month with $1,999 down over 36 months.
“This is about as cheap as lease deals have ever been on these midsize sedans,” Bernstein says. But it actually gets even cheaper, marginally cheaper, according to CarsDirect’s examination of 500 lease deals.
Midsize Sedan Deathwatch #12: Is That An Atlas Intruding Into Your Territory?
The Volkswagen Passat has a roomie.
Production of the Volkswagen Atlas, Volkswagen of America’s first three-row SUV and the automaker’s first three-row vehicle since the Dodge Grand Caravan-derived Volkswagen Routan fled the scene in 2014, began earlier this year in Chattanooga, Tennessee, previously known as the Passat’s factory.
The first 1,610 copies of the Atlas were sold in May 2017.
Volkswagen, which built the Tennessee assembly plant as part of a goal that would see the brand selling 800,000 vehicles in America per year by 2018, originally intended to build 150,000 vehicles annually in Chattanooga. Only half that capacity was used last year.
If the Volkswagen Atlas becomes the hit the Volkswagen Passat never was, what might that say about the North Americanized Volkswagen Passat’s future?
Want A New Chrysler 200? It's Dead, But There's Surely No Shortage of Supply
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ U.S. dealers entered 2017 with more than six-months’ worth of Chrysler 200 supply, according to Automotive News.
That’s enough inventory for America’s latest discontinued midsize sedan, production of which ended eight weeks ago, to linger well into summer, assuming demand remains on an even keel.
Of course, demand for the Chrysler 200 has not flatlined, but rather continues to shrink. This means 200s built in the fourth-quarter of 2016 — or earlier — may well be readily available at a Chrysler dealer near you, not just this summer, but even toward the end of 2017.
You therefore have plenty of time to decide whether you want to take the plunge into a world of defunct nameplates. Based on recent results, it appears that more than 98 percent of midsize sedan buyers don’t.
Midsize Sedan Lifewatch? Toyota Believes New Camry Ends Segment Decline - Or Not
“When you get into next year and you look at 2018, I believe with these three products
and the excitement they bring back to that segment, I don’t see it falling anymore.”
– Jack Hollis, Toyota Motor Sales USA’s VP of marketing
U.S. sales of midsize cars tumbled by more than 250,000 units in 2016 even as new vehicle volume rose to record highs. The rate of decline was sharper than the decline experienced by the car sector at large. Only Chevrolet, with the all-new Malibu, and Subaru, with the relatively low-volume Legacy, sold more midsize cars in 2016 than in 2015.
Fleet sales excluded, retail data manifests a worsening of results as the year wore on. According to J.D. Power’s PIN December Industry Health Report, midsize car market share fell below 10 percent for the first time ever.
But Toyota USA’s marketing chief, Jack Hollis, believes 2017 could mark the end of the midsize decline, and 2018 sales of midsize cars could even begin to increase.
Who Killed The Camry?
Blame the Rebels.
Nissan’s Rogue was the best-selling vehicle without a pickup bed in December of 2016, largely thanks to a massive advertising campaign that tied into one of the two recent Star Wars movies where only teenaged girls can be trusted to save the universe. Behind it, you had the usual suspects: CR-V, RAV4, Camry, Accord, Civic, Corolla. But even that state of affairs is a major change from business-as-usual a decade or two ago.
You can learn a lot about American society by looking at the best-selling car in any given year. So if we discount the Rogue’s Yavin IV-style moonshot performance, what’s changed about us since, say, 1967 — and what’s stayed the same? More importantly, who killed the Camry?