The auto industry has hit the half-way mark for the year so who scored big in the first six months of 2012? In total, June car sales closed on a higher note than expected, pushing the sales for the first half of 2012 to 7,273,749 vehicles, up 14.9 percent from the first-half of 2011 for the industry's best first-half performance since pre-recession 2008.
But how did individual players perform in the first half of 2012? Edmunds.com's analysis shows the 2012 Toyota Camry, freshened last fall, was the industry's bestselling vehicle in the first six months, the revamped Volkswagen Beetle was most improved from its predecessor and the all-new Chevrolet Sonic, which replaced the Chevrolet Aveo, won the title of Rookie of the Year-So-Far.
Rookies of the Half-Year: About a half-dozen rookies — defined as brand-new nameplates on the market — drove onto the field in the first half of 2012. The Chevrolet Sonic took top honors as rookie of the year-so-far, but it was in the company of other strong contenders.
Chevrolet Sonic: The Chevrolet Sonic was an all-new 2012 model to replace the Chevrolet Aveo. The vehicle made quantum leaps beyond the Aveo that consumers definitely recognized. The Sonic instantly shot to the head of the subcompact class, approaching sales of 8,000 units in some months, far surpassing any sales the Aveo had ever tallied and beating out competitors like the revamped Hyundai Accent and Ford Fiesta.
In addition to being a far superior replacement to the South Korean-built Aveo, the Sonic broke new ground by being the first subcompact built by a Detroit automaker in the United States, specifically in the Detroit suburb of Orion Township, Mich., and with unionized workers, who are covered by a lower cost labor agreement tailored to fit the lower profit margins of a small car like the Sonic. The Sonic comes as a sedan or a four-door hatchback. A 1.8-liter four-cylinder that produces 138 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque is standard. Optional engines are a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. Manual transmissions are standard (five-speed with the 1.8-liter, six-speed with the turbo), and a six-speed automatic is optional with the 1.8-liter.
Hyundai Veloster: The boldly designed Hyundai Veloster is an affordable sporty car especially for young buyers, and it hit the mark. Hyundai dealers sell the Veloster as fast as they are unloaded from the car haulers. Edmunds.com's analysis of quickest-selling cars in May ranked the Veloster at No. 12, selling on average within 15 days while the industry average was 52 days. Built upon the same basic architecture as the Hyundai Accent, Veloster is a four-passenger, three-door hatchback with a base 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 138 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque. The Veloster Turbo — a 2013 model year cranks out 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. For either model, a six-speed manual transmission is standard, with an automated dual-clutch manual transmission as an option.
Toyota Prius C: Gas prices rose and then fell during the first half, causing sales of hybrids and other alternative powered vehicles to do the same. But the standout in the first half was the Toyota Prius C, the newest, smallest and cheapest member of the expanding Prius hybrid family; the Prius V, the largest version, also joined the family in 2012. Toyota got two key numbers in the equation exactly right with the Prius C — 50 mpg and $20,000 — which equaled sales booming beyond what Toyota can produce in Japan. Equipped with a smaller, less powerful version of the hybrid powertrain than its siblings, the Prius C was the quickest selling car in February and was drawing looks from Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt shoppers, as an Edmunds.com analysis of consumer cross-shopping trends showed.
Mazda CX-5: The Mazda CX-5 was an all-new crossover introduced in the first half but labeled as a 2013 model. It is the first Mazda built under the Japanese automaker's overarching "Skyactiv" product-development strategy that, in this case, joins a newly designed four-cylinder gasoline engine with six-speed (manual and automatic) transmissions and an all-new lightweight chassis for good fuel economy. There is a single engine choice for the Mazda CX-5, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that generates 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard for the front-drive Sport, with a six-speed automatic being optional. All other CX-5 models receive the automatic as standard. Fuel economy is very good, with the CX-5 earning an EPA-estimated 26 mpg city/35 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined with the manual and 26/32/29 mpg with the automatic. The CX-5 made the Edmunds.com's list of quickest-selling vehicles, ranked at No. 16, selling on average in 17 days.
Buick Verano: The Buick Verano was an all-new, entry-level Buick loosely based on the Chevrolet Cruze but bolstered with more than a few key upgrades including a nicer interior and more sophisticated styling. It also has a larger engine and quieter ride than the Cruze. The Verano comes standard with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that's rated at 180 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. It drives the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. Buick adds a 250-horsepower turbo model this fall. The Verano Turbo, the 2.0-liter is tuned for 260 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 rpm.
Most Improved Vehicles: The recession prompted automakers to delay new product programs, but in 2012, replacement players rushed onto the scene. The new — albeit the "New" is now dropped from its official name — Volkswagen Beetle showed the biggest sales improvement among replacement players, perhaps due to its more manly styling. Aside from the mainstream Beetle and a few other vehicles for average buyers, the list of most improved in sales list for the first-half includes a number of luxury models.
Volkswagen Beetle: It's no secret that the old New Volkswagen Beetle appealed more to women than men, with its rounded crown and dashboard flower vase. The newest Beetle features a more squared off noggin along with a more masculine longer, lower, wider stance. Plus Volkswagen ditched the posy container. The four-passenger hatchback comes as a 2.5L model, equipped with a 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder that puts out 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, while a six-speed automatic transmission is optional on all but the base model. The sporty Turbo model has a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. The high fuel economy TDI version is powered by a 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder engine rated at 140 hp and 236 lb-ft. The more manly formula is working. The newest Beetle is selling far better than the model it replaced, having its best June since 2002 last month with 2,914 sold.
Lexus GS 350: The Lexus brand got clobbered in the first half of last year due to the Japan earthquake and the severe shortages of Japanese-made Lexus models. In fact, Lexus lost its long-held luxury sales crown in the U.S. to Mercedes-Benz and ran a distant third behind BMW. But, like Toyota, Lexus is making a comeback in sales and with new models, first among them the GS 350, which is being followed still this year by a new ES 350 and RX 350 SUV. While the latter two volume models get up to speed, the sportier GS is pushing the brand's overall gains. Lexus also has added an extra dose of sportiness by offering the new GS with the first F Sport Performance package.
BMW 6 Series: The BMW 6 Series was completely redesigned for 2012. An all-new, aluminum-intensive structure based on that of BMW's 5 and 7 Series sedans lends greater structural rigidity and keeps weight down. It keeps it light, but not svelte, as this new 6 Series also grew in size. The biggest changes are to the styling, which is toned down to be less adventurous, and to the engines. The new twin-turbo V8 is now almost as quick as the old V10-powered M6.
Chevrolet Volt: The extended-range, plug-in Chevrolet Volt hybrid is finally gaining some traction, helped by attaining high-occupancy status on California freeways. The automaker has been selling about 1,700 a month, about three times what it was a year ago. The notion that the Volt eliminates range anxiety apparently is working, as it is outselling the all electric Nissan Leaf by a wide margin. The Volt can run on pure electric power for 25 to 50 miles or travel 300 miles with the gasoline engine powering the battery.
Chrysler 300: The Chrysler 300 was a styling head-turner when it was first introduced but it was getting very long in the tooth. With Fiat in charge, the 300 got a much-needed makeover. The large five-passenger sedan, with rear- or all-wheel-drive, features a more powerful base V6 engine, upgraded interior but retains its unmistakably American styling, albeit it freshened. And yes you can still buy that thing with a Hemi V8.
Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class: The Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class was completely redesigned for 2012. Its coupe-like styling remains, but overall it's a bit more aggressive-looking. Under the skin, the CLS is based on the latest E-Class generation and shares its V8 engines. An even more aggressive and powerful AMG version is available.
Hyundai Azera: The Hyundai Azera large car was redesigned for 2012 to be considerably more stylish, with more distinctive exterior styling and a higher-quality interior. The second-generation Azera boasts best-in-class power output as well as fuel economy and front-seat passenger space. Plus it is available with all of the amenities of a European luxury car but with smaller price tag.
Audi A6: The fourth-generation A6 made its debut in 2012. Audi, among the fastest growing luxury brands in America and the world, could sell more if it could get more from Germany. The sedan is on the list of quickest-selling vehicles almost every month. The new version features Audi's signature trapezoidal grille and more angular headlights. The German automaker has also made notable improvements to the car's performance.
Subaru Impreza: When small car sales were booming, the old Subaru Impreza wasn't riding the wave, because it was dated and didn't have fuel efficiency to brag about. Redesigned for the 2012 model year last fall, the new Impreza adopts less quirky styling that's obviously inspired by its larger Legacy sibling, has more room inside and far superior fuel efficiency. The Impreza is playing an important role in driving Subaru to its fourth consecutive record sales this year.
Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class: The Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class, introduced a decade ago in the luxury small roadster segment, was redesigned for 2012. It retains the standard retractable metal roof that it was first to introduce, and adds an available sun-reflecting panoramic glass roof option.
Best Selling Vehicles: The list of bestsellers in the first half of 2012 is populated with the usual suspects: Toyota and Honda small and midsize cars; Ford and Chevrolet midsize cars and full-size pickup trucks; and a Nissan midsize car. And the ultimate bestseller in the first half once again was the midsize Toyota Camry sedan.
Indeed, midsize sedans made up half of the top 10 bestsellers as the segment gained share during the first six months of the year. And the category will only get more interesting and competitive in the second half. Beginning this month, Camry, redesigned for last fall, gets some tough competition as spanking new versions of the Nissan Altima, which just went on sale June 26 and will be in full force this month, and with additional versions beyond just the Eco model (issued early in the year) of the revamped Chevrolet Malibu hitting showrooms this month. In the fall, the redesigned Ford Fusion and Honda Accord join the fray. That's on top of the just introduced Volkswagen Passat and Kia Optima last year and the Hyundai Sonata within the past couple of years.
Toyota Camry: It's back on top. The Toyota Camry has been America's best-selling car for 10 years running and 14 of the past 15 years. It did it again for the first six months of 2012 after a rough first-half of last year caused by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan that triggered production disruptions and inventory disruptions for Toyota. And the Camry made a comeback even though critics charged the 2012 redesign of the Camry — the seventh-generation — was only evolutionary and not very exciting. Car-buying consumers apparently don't care as they are buying about 30,000 plus a month of them.
Ford F-150: The Ford F-150 retained its title of best-selling truck in America for the first six months of this year. The key reason the F-150 is staying on top is its fuel-saving EcoBoost V6 engine, which accounts for an increasingly larger chunk of F-150 sales. The truck segment will be another intriguing one to watch over the next year or so as Chrysler does a significant freshening on the Dodge Ram, General Motors totally revamps its full-size pickups, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, next year, and Ford redesigns its F-150 line in 2014.
Honda Civic: The freshened 2012 Honda Civic is another vehicle the critics — including Consumer Reports magazine, which refused to recommend it — blasted, but consumers said "we don't care." Civic sales got hurt badly by production disruptions from the Japan earthquake last year, and the new version didn't get off to a great start with last fall's bungled launch. But viewed by consumers as a safe reliable buy despite only evolutionary differences from the previous version, the Civic is again hitting its stride, leading compact car sales race.
Nissan Altima: The Nissan Altima had some big sales months in the first half as the Japanese automaker began winding down the old model to make way for the revamped 2013 version. Nissan executives won't openly admit it but they are gunning to take the No. 1 sales spot from the Toyota Camry. The new version is completely restyled inside and out and boasts fuel economy of 38 mpg highway.
Honda Accord: Always a bestseller, the Honda Accord is in wind-down mode to make way for the new model, which, like the Civic is expected to be evolutionary. That likely won't matter to Accord aficionados
Toyota Corolla: Another perennial best-seller the Toyota Corolla doesn't have to change much to stay popular with budget-minded, fuel economy-conscious consumers.
Honda CR-V: With struggles with supply last year, the Ford Escape overtook the previous Honda CR-v in sales during some months in the past year. But the revamped Honda CR-V, on sale beginning last December, got off to a fast start and it has re-captured its No. 1 spot in the compact SUV segment. Hardware changes on the new one were minimal but the styling is fresh and more contemporary. The battle between the newest Honda CR-V and the just-launched and highly stylish Ford Escape, with unique features like a hands-free liftgate opening and self-parking feature, will be an interesting one to watch.
Chevrolet Silverado 1500: The Chevrolet Silverado is always on the Top 10 Bestsellers list but it has slumped to No. 8, a ranking it has been at only once since 1991 and that was in 2007. Typically the Silverado is in the Top 5 Bestsellers. GM completely revamps the Silverado, and its sibling, the GMC Sierra, next year, along with the Chevrolet and GMC SUVs that share the pickup truck architecture.
Chevrolet Malibu: The Chevrolet Malibu has been a bit schizophrenic in the first half. As it sold down the previous version, Chevrolet introduced the fuel-efficient Eco version of the redesigned Malibu. Other versions begin rolling out in July. The new generation boasts a host of improvements in refinement and feature content as well as styling and fuel economy.
Ford Fusion: The current Ford Fusion has had a phenomenal run, repeatedly setting new sales records as the automaker closes out the old to make way for the new. The 2013 Fusion is a vehicle to watch. With hints of Aston Martin, the Fusion is an extremely stylish car in a generally bland midsize sedan segment. Time will tell if fashion will win out; the Hyundai Sonata demonstrated that practical buyers in that segment were open to more style. Fresh design, multiple powertrain options, increased refinement, top fuel economy estimates and intriguing features could push the 2013 Fusion to the top of the midsize sedan class. Added capacity from Ford's complete takeover of its Detroit-area, once a joint venture with Mazda, will help.