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Midsize Sedans Still Popular but Lose Luster in 2015

Midsize Sedans Still Popular but Lose Luster in 2015

By Philly Murtha,

Midsize family cars--principally sedans--which make up the largest-volume segment in the U.S. auto market, lost luster in the first quarter of 2015. Yet, even with a sales dip of 2.8%* in the first quarter vs. a year ago, one of every seven new vehicles purchased or leased this year was a midsize car.

Even with a slew of refreshes and redesigns for the 2015 model year--such as the Toyota Camry, Chrysler 200, Hyundai Sonata, and the Subaru Legacy--consumers have been drawn to SUVs. Through the first 3 months of 2015, the midsize car market share dropped by more than a point--or 41,600 units--to 14.3% in 2015 from 15.5% a year ago.

Overall, the Toyota Camry midsize sedan continues to be the best-selling car in the U.S. market. The Camry, which is produced mainly at North American plants, has been the top-selling car in the United States for 12 consecutive years. The Camry's fortunes continue to rise as sales of the popular sedan in the first quarter surpassed 100,500 units, up from 94,258 unit sales in the same period of 2014.

Due to intense competition in the segment, with 16 entries, Toyota has given its 2015 Camry a makeover with interior and exterior upgrades. The redesigned model is 2 inches longer than the previous version. Toyota has added a performance-based XSE trim level with paddle shifters, a sport mode, dual chrome exhaust tips, and 18-in. alloy wheels to appeal to younger consumers. A premium JBL infotainment system is included and a V-6 engine is optional. A Hybrid SE trim level also has been added to the Camry's lineup to appeal to the "green" crowd.

Trailing the Camry in sales this year are the Nissan Altima (86,875 unit sales), Ford Fusion (71,470), and Honda Accord (68,645 units), based on sales data compiled by J.D. Power and LMC Automotive. Including the Camry, these four models accounted for more than 56% of sales in the segment and also were among the 10 best-selling models at the industry level during the first quarter of 2015.

The second-best-selling Altima, redesigned two years ago, has a few new features for 2015 such as optional 4-cylinder or V-6 powertrains. Fuel economy is a standout. The EPA estimates that the 2015 Altima, powered by a 4-cylinder engine, achieves 27/38 mpg city/ highway. NASA-inspired zero-gravity seats that help minimize fatigue during long trips, according to the automaker, are also a plus in the Altima.

Ford's Fusion is the third-best-selling midsize car model, redesigned two years ago with a bold, new look. Two turbocharged 4-cylinder engines are among the powertrain choices for the 2015 model.

Honda's Accord, the fourth-best-selling midsize car, also was last redesigned for 2013. It has been lauded by auto reviewers for its strong acceleration and fuel efficiency. In addition, the Accord Hybrid has achieved accolades with an EPA-estimated fuel-economy rating of 47 mpg.

The redesigned 2015 Chrysler 200 has sparked demand and the redesign has helped it reach fifth-place sales status in the first quarter with deliveries of 49,152 units--up by more than 18,600 units from last year's 30,000+ unit sales. In March alone, sales more than doubled. The 200's interior has been revised, and a more powerful base 4-cylinder engine is featured along with a V-6 option.

Among other entries, the Kia Optima is being redone for 2016 with a larger footprint. The 2016 Optima, available in showrooms later this year, is longer, wider, and taller with better driving dynamics, according to the automaker. Through March, the Optima, built in the U.S. and in South Korea, was the eighth-best-selling midsize car, behind corporate partner Hyundai Sonata--which ranked sixth in sales.

Another midsize sedan redesigned for 2016 is the Chevrolet Malibu, which was revamped three years ago. The new Malibu, with styling hints from the larger Impala, is longer, roomier, and 300 lbs. lighter than the previous model. Turbocharged engines and a new hybrid powertrain are optional in the new Malibu, which will go on sale this fall to help boost lagging sales. In 2014, the Malibu was the fifth-best-selling midsize car, while this year, it has dropped to seventh in the sales rankings.

Among independent, smaller-volume brands, Subaru redesigned its AWD Legacy for 2015 to be roomy enough to qualify as a large sedan. Sales are up by more than 40% vs. last year. Another Japanese model, the Mazda 6, is redesigned for the 2016 model year with a new grille and revised cockpit. It will arrive in showrooms later this year.

* Sales percentage changes are adjusted for the difference in the number of selling days between months in 2015 vs. 2014.

Additional Research:

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