The subcompact segment shrank by 8% compared to 2014, a performance even worse than the minicar segment shrinking by 5%. While low gas prices contributed to this, just as they did for the smaller segment, it is probably the lack of new metal that really drove sales in the segment down. Honda Fit and Scion iA were the only new cars that came to market in 2015, and only the former has sold in meaningful quantities. In fact, with many of the segment stalwarts getting on in years, this may be one of the oldest segments.
The Kia Soul did just enough to retain the position as segment leader, with sales growing by 1% compared to 2014. However, the Nissan Versa is hot on its heals, and with its sales growing by 3% compared to 2014 it is now less than 3,000 units away from taking the top spot from the Soul. The two are so close that it seems to be anyone’s guess which of them will end up on the top spot in 2016.
It is also interesting to take a step back and look at these models compared to the rest of the segment. Taken together, their sales add up to around 290,000 – almost half of the total sales in the segment. In addition, they are both very from their conservative competitors in the segment. The Soul is a funky, upright model that majors on style, while the Versa, at least it its sedan version, is a bargain that majors on interior space. It is also fascinating how well such unique models sell in the US, compared to Europe where the Note (Versa hatchback) only sold 37,000 units last year, while the Soul did even worse at 11,000 units.
The Chevy Sonic held onto third place in the rankings by the skin of its teeth, selling barely 300 units more than the fourth-ranked Ford Fiesta, after seeing its sales drop by 31% compared to 2014. There is no clear indication for what caused such a large drop in sales, as the model is only entering its fifth year on the market . The Fiesta, an eight-year-old model, is doing just fine as its sales grew by 2% over the course of the last year, better than the 3% fall the fifth-placed but two years younger Hyundai Accent managed. In fact, the Accent feels like it’s due for a replacement more than the Fiesta, probably because even when it was new it lacked the “wow” factor of its larger Elantra and Sonata siblings. Given how most other car brands started offering their global models in this segment, it’ll be interesting to see whether Hyundai perseveres with a US-specific model when it replaces the Accent, or whether it brings the well-received i20 over from Europe.
The Honda Fit, in sixth place, is an interesting case, as it is a new-for-2015 model, but whose sales were down by 11% compared to 2014, heavily curtailed by supply shortages stemming in part from Honda’s decision to shift production to the more profitable, and very popular, new HR-V subcompact SUV model. No such “abundance of riches” excuse for the Kia Rio, whose sales were down by 34% despite only entering its fifth year on the market, showing how this good-looking model never really caught on with the buying public.
The final three spots from amongst the cars not being phased out fall to the Toyota Yaris and its two corporate Scion siblings. The Yaris actually earns the distinction of being the subcompact model whose sales rose most compared to 2014, at 26%, showing that consumers reacted positively to the model’s aggressive facelift. The news for Scion is mixed, with the xB’s sales falling 8% but the new iA model doing very well indeed, though it’s interesting to note that the latter is little more than a badge-engineered Mazda2 sedan. Given how Mazda decided to pull its subcompact model from the market, I’m curious whether they are getting enough from Scion to make up for their lost sales. Though it could be, of course, that the model will sell much better as a Scion simply because Mazda models never seem to do as well on the market as the cars’ qualities suggest they should.
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