By on March 18, 2016

2015 Toyota Camry XSE red

If your neighbor tells you they’re thinking of buying or leasing a new midsize sedan, you wouldn’t be crazy to assume that they’ve likely visited the local Toyota, Honda, and Nissan dealers.

Yet the majority of U.S. midsize car buyers do not, in fact, choose the Camry, Accord, or Altima.

Diversity wins. The dominator isn’t all-conquering.

(Read More…)

By on March 17, 2016

Mini-Clubman-21

As the U.S. auto industry achieved record sales volume in 2015, Mini’s U.S. sales were down 12 percent compared with Mini’s peak in 2013. And despite modest year-over-year growth in 2015, the year didn’t end so well. Mini sales plunged 20 percent in the fourth quarter, and sales have now declined in four of the last five months.

Through the first two months of 2016, U.S. Mini sales are down 13 percent, a loss of nearly 900 sales, even as industry sales grew by more than 3 percent. Indeed, in February, Mini volume plunged 24 percent as overall U.S. new vehicle volume rose to the highest February level since 2001.

Yet this is not a worldwide issue. Globally, Mini sales hit a record high in 2015 and are up 4 percent in the early part of 2016. Will a U.S. rebound soon follow? (Read More…)

By on March 16, 2016

2016 Infiniti QX50, Image: Infiniti

The tiny, centre-mounted screen is controlled by a wheel and a mound of buttons. Controls for power seat memory protrude from the driver’s door, demanding the attention that protruding things tend to demand. Rubbing the driver’s right knee is plastic surrounding the centre console that would seem out of place in a car costing 10 grand less. The 3.7-liter V6 ignites with a level of coarse grumbliness that suggests Infiniti spent slightly more time on NVH than Blue Bird does on school buses. The faux wood applique — with which Infiniti liberally encompassed the shifter, climate, and audio controls — may be the same stuff Hyundai once used to make the XG300 appear upmarket.

Yet the QX50, riding as it does on only a slightly elevated 370Z architecture, is ridiculously fun to hustle down an empty rural road. The level of standard horsepower, 325 ponies at 7,000 rpm, shames its competitors. And for 2016, the Infiniti QX50 can ferry live human passengers in its rear seat.

As a result, U.S. sales of the Infiniti QX50 jumped 473 percent over the last five months. (Read More…)

By on March 14, 2016

Scion iA, Image: Toyota

The best-selling Toyota subcompact in America is a Mexican-built Mazda that’s sold as a Scion and will soon be sold as a Toyota. It’s a car that’s already called the Yaris R in Mexico and the Yaris Sedan in Canada.

Meanwhile, Toyota’s once hot-selling subcompact, the Toyota-branded Yaris, is a hatchback imported from France that scarcely attracts any attention at all.

In between, Toyota’s actual Japanese-built Prius C is increasingly unpopular. (Read More…)

By on March 11, 2016

2016 Toyota Tacoma blue

Competition improves the breed?

In order to tighten its grasp on the American midsize truck market, the Toyota Tacoma was thoroughly refreshed for model year 2016, a necessary development following the arrival – finally – of all-new competition at the end of 2014.

Evidently, Toyota did not need to debut an all-new pickup truck in order to fend off new General Motors challengers and keep its hold on a segment Toyota has led since 2005.

Want proof? Nearly half the non-full-size pickup trucks sold in the United States in the first two months of 2016 were Toyotas. (Read More…)

By on March 9, 2016

2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Image: Daimler

Through the first one-sixth of 2016, U.S. sales of passenger cars sold by so-called premium brands plunged 17 percent. That year-over-year loss of nearly 25,000 sales occurred over the course of the auto sales calendar’s two lowest-volume months.

Lost in the story of booming auto sales volume in February 2016 — the highest-volume February since 2001 — was the underachieving premium market. Auto sales jumped 7 percent in February, a gain of 86,000 units, but 19 premium brands — from sector-leading Mercedes-Benz to one-model Alfa Romeo — combined for only a 1-percent year-over-year uptick during the same period.

Why, in such an apparently healthy market, are premium auto brands collectively losing market share? (Read More…)

By on March 7, 2016

2016 Volkswagen Passat, Image: © 2015 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars

The good news? Volkswagen of America sold more new vehicles in February 2016 than the company managed to sell in January 2016.

The bad news? Improving upon January’s results was a given. February volume was significantly stronger across the industry, just as it always is. Even as industry-wide sales grew 17 percent compared with January, Volkswagen sales grew 11 percent. And while the industry surged to its best February results since 2001, Volkswagen brand sales still fell to the lowest February total in five years. (Read More…)

By on March 4, 2016

2016 Chrysler 200S AWD, Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles North America

The plan was straightforward. With demand for conventional midsize cars gradually decreasing and buyers in Fiat Chrysler’s U.S. showrooms increasingly turning to flexible Jeep SUVs, Chrysler 200 production would be temporarily shut down. Inventory was piling up. Inventory needed to be cleared out.

Rather than build more sedans, which would simply be piled up on top of existing unsold 200s, a six-week production hiatus would allow time for 200 supply and demand to realign at more realistic levels.

But the clear-out of those existing, unsold 200s — Automotive News says Chrysler had a 217-day supply of 47,000 200s at the beginning of February — isn’t having any measurable impact on 200 sales. In fact, while FCA wants to see 200s leaving showrooms in order for space to be created for new 200s once production is reignited, demand for the 200 is drying up. (Read More…)

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