US sales analysis Q1 2018 – Compact segment

Segment shrinks by over 10% as alternative power models hit new heights

Sales in the Compact segment fell by 10.1% to 464,749 in the first quarter of 2018, a faster rate of decline than the 7.0% the segment experienced in Q4’17, and a much faster one than the 3.8% decline in 2017 overall. It is a sign of just how badly the mainstream segment has been hit of late that this decline still makes the Compact segment the second best-performing of all the mainstream segments, with only the Minivan segment doing better. However, there is hope on the horizon in the form of the new Ford Focus and VW Jetta that are about to go on sale, and a new Toyota Corolla be not far behind. With the alternative power subsegment starting to make a meaningful impact on sales thanks to cars such as the Chevrolet Bolt / Volt duo and the plug-in Toyota Prius Prime, it will be interesting to see how well the new Nissan Leaf is received.


  • Given the decline in the segment overall the Top 3 did really well, with the segment-leading Honda Civic managing to eek out a small increase in sales, while the third-placed Nissan Sentra continued its remarkable rally as it once again posted double-digit sale growth
  • The rest of the Top 10 did less well, with most models losing between 5% and 15% of sales since last year, with the exception of Chevrolet Cruze (down 26%) and the Volkswagen duo Jetta and Golf (down 40% and 47%, respectively), all of which suffered from the arrival of a new compact crossover in the brand that has been much better received than its predecessor (the Chevrolet Equinox and Volkswagen Tiguan L)
  • Just outside the Top 10 was a bevvy of alternative-fuel cars, starting with the fourth-generation Toyota Prius (sales down 24%) and continuing with Toyota Prius Prime, Kia Niro and Chevrolet Bolt, all of which posted sales growth rates of over 30%, allowing them to easily outsell their closest rivals Chevrolet Volt (sales down 37%) and Nissan Leaf (sales down 23% as the model changeover is just beginning)
  • It is interestingly to consider the success of the Kia Niro alongside the relative failure of the Hyundai Ioniq, which suggests that the crossover alternative power subsegment may not be quite as niche as some may have thought
  • Models we lost in 2017 include Buick Verano and a run-out of the Dodge Dart, with Volkswagen Beetle, Mitsubishi Lancer and Fiat 500L all possible candidates for the chop this year

Note: “AP” designates models that are classified in the Alternative Power segment, presented here for comparison; clicking on the model name opens the sales data page for that model; clicking year in the legend turns the display for that year on/off

  1. I think you should include the Fiat 500L in the Subcompact segment, because it is a rival of the Kia Soul, the Nissan Versa Note and the Honda Fit. For the European market you publish Fiat 500L sales together with Nissan Note and Kia Soul ones

  2. Hi Kris.
    There’s also a new Sentra already confirmed for 2019, and a new Forte, so sales may stabilize from next year.
    Mitsu has already stopped building Lancers btw.

  3. Why are Asian brands able to dominate the American compact segment and can’t do the same in Europe with the same cars? Pricing is not a factor, the Honda Civic sedan is more expensive than the Chevrolet Cruze in the States.
    As a European, I’ve always been fascinated by the US car market due to the widespread acceptance and popularity of non-American mainstream and luxury brands. Some brands (e.g. Honda) don’t consider the European market as important, but I’m sure this is a result of cultural differences as well. It’s clear Europeans are different customers compared with American customers which already starts with a different approach of foreign (i.e. non-European) brand logo. To this day, I still meet Europeans who consider Ford to be German, because of Ford of Europe. These incorrect claims are probably part of the problem and make Europeans even more arrogant in their questionable approach.

    1. Because Americans give more value to reliability than the europeans and the Japanese cars are the most reliable cars in general.

    2. Don’t worry, we have people in the US that wrongly think Ford is an American company. It is not. Large swaths of their vehicles are made in Mexico and imported to the US. Oddly on the other hand nearly all of the Japanese and Korean models are made in the US. And not just assembled either. A review of the top 10 vehicles by percentage of US origins will yield nearly all of them are Japanese.

      1. Yes, a preference for domestic products can be a main reason why Americans buy Asian cars. In this respect, Americans are more ‘nationalistic’ than Europeans. But let’s be honest, no matter how many Fords are produced outside of the US (i.e. the non-Trump way), Ford is American.
        Asian brands like Nissan and Toyota build cars in Europe (e.g. France, UK) as well, but it looks like this doesn’t automatically result into a dominant position within a certain segment.

    3. You’re not totally right. Koreans also make very reliable machines. Besides: Europeans have the Avensis, Americans have the Camry, Europeans have the Ceed, Americans have the Forte, Europeans have Nissan Pulsar, but we never had the Tiida and so on… The engines are usually different: Americans don’t have diesels and small turbo engines. Unfortunately Japanese diesels have a bad reputation for reliability: Toyota’s D-Cat has cylinderhead-problems, Subaru’s boxerdiesel often breaks the crankshaft, Mazda’s diesel is notorious for DPF-problems… Maybe Honda-diesels are good.

      And I don’t think Americans know about the Renault-Nissan Alliance: they just buy Nissans because they are Japanese. But these two brands share platforms and engines for quite some time, and this doesn’t have a good effect on Nissan’s reputation here in Europe. Maybe Altima, Versa, Quest and other “American” Nissans don’t include Renault-engineering, but here in Europe people think of Renault and Nissan as one company, with same engines and same quality. Most of the Japanese cars are assembled in England and Turkey, and they are much worse in terms of quality, compared to the Japanese-built cars.

      And we should’t forget about heavy corrosion, mostly on Mazda models…

      1. Japanese (and also the koreans) are the most reliable cars overall but of course they are not perfect. Renault (and Dacia) is nowadays one of the most reliable European brands not only but also because of Nissan and Renault-Nissan even provides their engines and vehicles to Mercedes and other brands.

      2. About the approach of Nissan as part of a French-Japanese alliance, well that’s typical for the average European. Rating an existing brand based on many psychological factors. To this day, people consider French cars/leadership/policy and so on as inferior compared with other countries. That’s not right in my opinion, but I guess old habits die hard.
        I’m not saying the French are superior in every way, of course not, but looking at the on-going corruption at German companies and the Japanese recall misery, it’s clear the French deserve way more credit. The same happens with Opel as part of Peugeot-Citroen.
        I see lots of Opel drivers/fans questioning the acquisition by Peugeot-Citroen. As if Opel was going the right way under German/GM supervision. Tavares knows what he’s doing. Together with Ghosn, he played an important role saving Nissan when he worked at Renault. Now Renault-Nissan want to do the same with Mitsubishi. So the French must be doing a lot of things right when failing German and Japanese brands need their help.

      3. @Losange – Does Opel have fans? Opel is a brand that has survived in the last 20 years only because of the Isuzu/Fiat/Renault/GM/Suzuki/etc. engines, chassis and vehicles, and its “fans” are questioning the acquisition by PSA? It’s sad that a lot of people are ignorant and have no idea how the industry and the business works.

  4. @Bryan……Of course they do 😉 My statement is based on reading German automotive websites and newspapers. Although German Opel workers are protesting, it looks like people are willing to accept things need to change, but among many Opel enthusiasts the awkward feeling of France helping Germany prevails.
    Yeah, Opel has a very chaotic history. In a way, it’s weird they weren’t able to benefit more from the VW Group’s emissions scandal. In the case of VW, Europe (i.e. Germany-Lower Saxony, EU/EC) is too protective, but unfortunately Opel has a different status. Even within their own country it seems.

    1. Opel has a weak image in Germany and elsewhere in central and northern Europe, Germans know that Skoda is much more German (VW mechanics) than opels, in the UK they trick British people with Vauxhall brand which is a scam, PSA will have a long way to go to recover the brand. Best regards.

  5. Hi,

    Im doing a research papers work for my school about this and based on what i’ve read car sales for compact segment fell to 464,749 but in your chart the total number of cars sold is 470,753, may i know where is the 6004?are they not included in the chart?Please help. Thanks


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