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Midsize Vans, Large Cars Wane in Popularity

Midsize Vans, Large Cars Wane in Popularity

By Philly Murtha,

Both midsize vans and large cars--two vehicle segments long associated with the American family--continue to lose favor with consumers. According to sales data compiled by J.D. Power and LMC Automotive, each segment claimed less than a 3% share of U.S. auto sales in the first 3 months of 2015--a low point for both segments. In addition, sales declined by double-digits in each segment during the first quarter of 2015, compared with 2014. Instead, buyers and lessees favored SUVs, especially compact and midsize crossover models.

There may be a number of possible reasons for the decline in sales. An increase in gas prices during the past decade and more fuel-efficient yet powerful engine options for smaller cars and SUVs are a couple of possible reasons. In addition, there are an expanded number of stylish new models and redesigns in other segments that may have led consumers away.

Midsize Vans: Rise and Fall
The midsize van, or minivan, initially introduced to the U.S. auto market in the mid-1980s by Chrysler and Toyota, today makes up 2.8% of the new light-vehicle market, based on sales data. In the first quarter of 2015, midsize van sales fell nearly 11% from a year ago to less than 110,000 units. Some midsize van models are even being phased out. The iconic Dodge Grand Caravan, still among the four best-selling midsize vans in the United States, is being discontinued after this year.

Through the first quarter, the Toyota Sienna (32,773 unit sales) was the best-selling model in the midsize van segment. Updated with a more upscale interior and new safety and technology features, the refreshed Sienna is the market leader with a 30% share of segment sales.

Rounding out the top three sellers in the first 3 months of the year were the Honda Odyssey (27,088), which is set to be redesigned for 2016, and the Chrysler Town & Country (19,874), which received J.D. Power Initial Quality Study (IQS)SM honors in 2014 and 2013. Notably, combined midsize van sales  for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US (Caravan and Town & Country) comprise a one-third share of the segment's sales so far in 2015.

The midsize van category accounted for an 8.5% share of U.S. market sales in the mid-'90s. That share fell by nearly half to 4.4% in 2007, based on data provided by the Power Information Network(R) (PIN) from J.D. Power. Through the first 3 months of 2015, midsize van share dipped to just 2.8%.

Detroit Three Still Dominates Large Car Segment, But Sales Falling
A second vehicle segment--large cars--long an industry stalwart dominated by American car manufacturers Ford, GM and Chrysler, posted a steep sales decline (-17%) in the first quarter of 2015. Only 102,443 large cars were delivered in the first three months, according to manufacturer sales data--nearly 21,000 fewer than in the same period of 2014.

Losing ground with consumers since the mid-'80s and '90s, the segment has new top-sellers. The sporty Dodge Charger sedan was the market leader in the first quarter with 26,218 unit sales. The Charger, upgraded for the current model year with a refresh in exterior styling, optional AWD, and a number of V-8 engine options, was the segment sales leader and for several years has been a top choice among younger buyers, based on PIN data.

The Chevrolet Impala, currently available in 2016 and 2015 editions, is the second-highest-seller in the large car segment, although sales dipped to 16,332 this year from 22,763 in the same period of 2014. The 2015 model comes standard with a 4-cylinder engine and earns an estimated fuel-economy rating from the EPA of 22/31 mpg city/highway, which is good for a large car. A V-6 is optional, still with decent fuel economy (19/29 mpg city/highway) for a large car. Noted for its quiet ride and lots of interior features, the previous-generation Impala also appears in a fleet and rental car version: the Impala Limited.

The Toyota Avalon ranks as the third-best-seller in the large car segment with 13,604 unit sales in the first quarter of 2015, up by 309 units from 2014. Redesigned in 2013 to appeal to a younger buyer, the Avalon is powered by a V-6 engine.

Rounding out the top five best-selling large cars in the first quarter were the Chrysler 300, with new styling, a quiet ride, safety technology upgrades and powerful V-8 engine; and the Ford Taurus family sedan, powered by a V-6 but with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine option.

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