So Long, Sedans

Given that families still need to get places and buy stuff, what’s happening? Simple. Crossovers.

According to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, the size of families has stayed fairly consistent for several years. In 2011, the last year there is charted data, the number of people in a family was 3.18.  The last time it was above 3.20 was in 1986, when it hit 3.21.  The largest number recorded was in 1940, when it reached 3.76.  The closest it came to that future was in 1966, when it hit 3.72.

The reason that family size is of interest is because what is going on with the classic “family sedan.”

The number of those cars is slipping.  Precipitously.

The delivery numbers of sedans in January across the board are surprising.  And not in a good way.

For example, take the case at Chevrolet.  The Malibu, which is now an even more stylish sedan that is as good-looking and well-appointed as anything in its class, had sales of 8,377 in January 2017—down 43.2% compared to the year earlier.

At Ford, it’s the Fusion, which has undergone a bit of a refresh with some brightwork.  Its sales are better, at 15,515, and it is down just 21.9%.  “Just” is a bit ironic.

The Nissan Altima is doing better with sales of 18,931.  Its decrease compared to the previous January is 14.6%.

The Honda Accord had sales of 19,536 units, which is off 5.9%.

The Toyota Camry, the car that, through 2016 was the best-selling in America for 15 years, had sales in January of 20,313, which is off 24.3% from the month a year earlier.

Now given that families are families and families still need to get places and buy stuff, what’s happening?

Simple.  Crossovers.

People are simply leaving the sedan segment and moving over to crossovers.  Like sedans, most of these have four doors.  And there is the higher ride height, which facilitates ingress and egress, unless you happen to be a child, so it is harder.  And while there may seem to be more cargo-carrying capacity, oftentimes that’s only if the second row is folded.  Otherwise the space between the back of the rear seat and the liftgate may not be appreciably more utile than what is available in a trunk because a considerable portion of the measured space is above the top of the seats.  (Think of moving a whole bunch of bowling balls.  You get as many as you can in the trunk of the Camry, which is 15.4-ft3.  Or you try to get them behind the second row of the RAV4, which is 38.4-ft3, but there is that issue of how are they contained once you get above the top of the seatback.)

The numbers of midsize crossovers sold by all of the companies herein mentioned is astonishing.

Let’s walk back through those cars and compare them with the January sales of the same-brand crossovers:

• Malibu: 8,377 • Equinox: 17,574
• Fusion: 15,515 • Escape: 20,588
• Altima: 18,931 • Rogue: 28,760
• Accord: 19,536 • CR-V: 29,287
• Camry: 20,313 • RAV4: 22,155

That number of the CR-V means that it is the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. in January that didn’t have a box on the back.

There should be little doubt that crossover-type vehicles are the new family sedans.  What’s somewhat amusing is that these vehicles are based on car platforms.  But OEMs have the opportunity to make more on a given crossover, not only because content can be added in comparatively greater abundance, but because they are perceived to be “more” than merely a car.

And given that there is an ever-increasing number of larger passenger vehicles on the road—the biggest-selling vehicle, again, was the Ford F-Series, of which 57,995 were sold in January, which was up 12.5% from last January—consumers want something that is at least a little bigger, at least from the point of view from behind the wheel.

Although there is a lot of discussion of the transformation to autonomous vehicles, the transformation from cars to crossovers is something that (1) is happening right now and (2) will have a bigger effect on the fleet in the near-to-mid-term than robot cars will.

And come to think of it, those robot cars are likely to be robotic crossovers.