The compact segment in the US gets the dubious distinction as being the only mainstream segment to grow in the first half of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014. In fact, the growth rate at 3% was very close to the 4% growth rate of the whole. market. Not a bad showing in these SUV-obsessed times.
The traditional segment leader, Toyota Corolla, strengthened its grip on the top spot. It seems that no matter what the opposition tries to do, the dependable, inoffensive Corolla still comes up on top. It probably helps that it is a younger design than the cars that took the three places behind it, all of which are about to be replaced in the coming year. Of the three the Hyundai Elantra did the best, and its year-on-year growth sees it snatch 3rd place ahead of Chevy Cruze by under 1,000 cars.
In fact, it’s pretty striking that the top 3 cars all come from Asian brands, given that all three American offerings are actually good cars. Sure, the 4th placed Cruze is a bit long in the tooth, but the 5th placed Focus just received a pretty extensive facelift and yet still its sales fell by 3%. Dodge Dart’s sales may have grown by 29%, the second best growth rate in the segment, but that’s from a much lower base – it sells less than half as many units as the other two. It’s clear Dodge has a long way to go before more consumers will be willing to take a risk on its compact offering after the so-so 2nd gen Neon and the atrocious Caliber.
In 6th spot is the Nissan Sentra, a surprisingly strong showing given that the car never feels like it was never interested in aiming for class honors, and looks like a dumpy shrunken version of its better-looking mid-size brother, the Altima. Its strong performance is even more surprising given that a car that often tops comparison tests for the compact segment, the Mazda3, sold barely half as many units as the Sentra, and actually recorded a slower growth rate. Maybe it says something about the consumers’ preference for inoffensive designs over the sharp, aggressive look of the Mazda.
Uniquely among the big car companies, VW offers not one, not two but three separate models in the compact class. From among the three the big-seller, Jetta, recorded a worrying 12% drop in sales despite a refresh at the end of 2014. Perhaps this is the final signal that will finally convince VW that you can’t compete in the US by going über-conservative (the story is the same for the larger Passat). In fact, it already has the great-looking Lamando in China – it should bring it to the US ASAP and put the sad Jetta out of its misery.
Of the other two VW offerings, the Golf did great, with sales up by a whooping 168% compared to last year! This is a performance all the more remarkable given that the Golf is only offered as a hatchback and wagon, two body styles not really in favor with the American consumers. At barely over 30,000 units it is still far from being a big player in the market, but proves that high-quality offerings such as the Golf, with its TDI, GTI, R and e-Golf derivatives, may have promise in the US. The less said about the sad 19% drop in sales for the Beetle the better – if it can’t do well even in the US this will probably be the last derivate for this model, unless VW finally sees the light and re-positions the model as a smaller, lifestyle alternative to the MINI and 500.
In 10th is the Subaru Impreza, a car from the brand that probably more than any other sells to a very specific audience in the areas of the US that see at least some snow during the year. Given how unsophisticated the current generation of the model this is actually a respectable performance, enough to put it ahead of the 11th-placed Kia Forte, a really decent car that’s inexplicably overshadowed by its older cousin, the Elantra.
Behind in 12th place is the Buick Verano (basically an Opel Astra sedan), which suffered the largest drop in the market probably because of its age and price/size proximity to its larger sibling, the Regal (the Opel Insignia). Second to last on the chart is the sad Mitsubishi Lancer, a car as behind the competition as the Saab 9-3 was just before that carmaker folded, but with none of its charm. Closing off the stakes is the dumpy FIAT 500L,proving that even the “500” brand is not strong enough to sell an awkward Italian econobox in the US (where FIAT stands for “Fix It Again, Tony!”).