US sales analysis Q4 2017 – Compact segment

Segment continues to shrink, hitting a six-year low, though the decline is still modest by mainstream standards

Sales in the US compact segment fell by 7.0% to 486,244 in the fourth quarter of 2017, the fastest rate of decline the segment has experienced in the past year. For 2017 as a whole, the segment shrank by 3.8% to 2,164,507, the lowest level in six years, as customers keep leaving for crossovers. Still, the segment can take some comfort from the fact that its plight is not nearly as bad as that of the larger mid-sized segment, in which sales fell by over 15% in 2017. What’s more, 2018 may turn out to be a good year for the segment, with Ford Focus and VW Jetta about to be replaced, as well as a new Nissan Sentra and Toyota Corolla likely to 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.


  • After starting the year off poorly, the segment-leading Honda Civic and the third-placed Nissan Sentra rallied in the second half of the year to post double-digit growth, pushing them into the black for 2017, the only two models in the Top 6 to manage that feat
  • By contrast, the second-placed Toyota Corolla endured a wretched year, with fourth-quarter sales decline of over 30% pushing its loss of the course of the year into the double digits, a performance less bad than only the Mazda3 from among the mainstream cars
  • Quite a few cars in the Top 10 enjoyed a rather “meh” year, with sales falling roughly in line with the segment as a whole, though the news will be less-worrying for the soon-to-be-replaced Ford Focus and VW Jetta than for the still-new Hyundai Elantra and Chevrolet Cruze
  • By contrast, the models towards the bottom of the Top 10 enjoyed a good 2017, with Kia Forte leaping over VW Jetta, as well as VW Golf leaping over Mazda3, though both of them were jumped by the surging new Subaru Impreza, whose sales leaped by 55.8% over the course of last year
  • Just outside the Top 10 is a series of models with alternative power drivetrains, still lead decisively by the unloved fourth-generation Toyota Prius
  • Remarkably for a new model and for an electric vehicle, sales of Chevrolet Bolt surged in 2017 to not only allow the model to leap over models such as the erstwhile EV leader Nissan Leaf and established PHEV sister Chevrolet Volt (both of which lost almost 20% in sales), but to sell over a third of units of the Prius, a feat that many would have considered impossible just a year ago
  • To be fair to the Prius, many of the lost customers seem to have jumped over to its new PHEV sister, Prius Prime, which was close behind the Bolt / Volt duo
  • Of the remaining models it’s worthwhile mentioning that Toyota Corolla iM, in essence the European Corolla, continues to do better as a Toyota than it did as a Scion, in contrast to another European import, Buick Verano, which seems to have been all but abandoned by the brand
  • Finally, it seems that Hyundai Ioniq will be unable to crack the alternative power sub-segment, an outcome in stark contrast to expectations of CSB readers, only 3% of who predicted that the model would sell fewer than 25,000 units anually

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