The Toyota Camry widened its lead as the nation's No. 1 selling car in October, helped by financing and lease incentives at a time when its challengers were ramping up with new midsize models. But with the freshened competition, can it hold onto its hefty?
Last October, when Japanese automakers were recovering from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the Honda Accord was the best-selling midsize car in America, eking past the Toyota Camry, which was just coming onto the market in its redesigned form, by only 546 sales; the Accord surpassed the Nissan Altima by 751 sales. Both the Accord and, even further along, the Altima were in sell-down mode to make way for new 2013 versions.
This October, the gap between No. 1 Camry and No. 3 Altima stretched by more than 5,300 units. Indeed, Toyota is making hay while the sun shines, offering zero-percent financing and attractive lease programs on most of its models, including the Camry; those incentives now are extended through Dec. 3. Clearly, Toyota's strategy has been open up its lead on its competitors while they are in the launch mode of their freshened models, as some of the competitors are being hailed as superior to the Camry in comparison tests. As they reach full-capacity and launch aggressive marketing, Camry's fresh competitors may well present a significant challenge for the current top dog.
Indeed, Nissan sold 13 percent more Altimas this October than last. Launched in June, the 2013 Nissan Altima is winning rave reviews, especially for its impressive fuel economy, rated at 27 mpg city and 38 mpg highway for the 2.5-liter four-cylinder version with a six-speed automatic. Edmunds's InsideLine.com declared the Altima superior to the Camry, saying "if you add up all of the Altima's parts and combine those with its more dynamic driving experience, it's a better car than the Camry, especially for anyone who has even an ounce of go-fast in their veins. And even if you're not interested in performance, the 2013 Nissan Altima still delivers impressive fuel economy, great seats and a compliant ride."
Likewise, InsideLine.com gave the 2013 Honda Accord, which just went on sale this fall, the edge over the Camry in a direct comparison test. "Next to the Accord, the 2012 Toyota Camry LE is down on flavor," the site remarked. "It's every bit as useful as the Honda on the inside, but on the road, it's slower and wholly uninterested in doing anything other than taking you to work in comfort. For some, that's enough, especially given this LE model's competitive price tag. But we'll pay a bit more for the 2013 Honda Accord's tastier brew. For the moment, it's the car to have in the four-cylinder midsize sedan class."
Another challenger is the 2013 Ford Fusion, which just launched this fall and is in extremely short supply. The Mexico plant that builds the Fusion, which typically accounts for about 12 percent of Ford brand sales, is just ramping up. Ford also will add Fusion capacity to its plant in Flat Rock, Mich., once a Ford-Mazda joint venture plant and now exclusively builds Fords. The addition of the Michigan factory will vastly increase the amount of Fusions the automaker has to sell.
General Motors just launched added versions of the redesigned 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, after introducing the fuel-efficient Eco version early in the year. Malibu sales were off 6 percent in October to 9,629 units.
The fairly new Kia Optima midsizer also had a good month with sales up 50 percent to 12,948 units. The also somewhat new Volkswagen Passat had its best October ever with sales of 8,355, up 66 percent from a year ago though it has seen sales of 10,000 plus in some months of this year.
Despite being freshened only a few years ago, the Hyundai Sonata is the granddaddy of the midsize class, and its age may be showing. Sonata sales were off 8 percent in October, a pullback noteworthy after the kind of run the stylish sedan enjoyed.
Midsize cars like the Camry accounted for the biggest chunk of October car sales due to the comeback of the Japanese automakers from last year's earthquake and tsunami, especially Toyota and Honda. Midsize cars accounted for 16.9 percent of October car sales, edging out the compact car category at 16.6 percent, according to Edmunds.com's analysis. That, in and of itself, was quite an accomplishment in light of the fact that midsize sedans are the most popular vehicles sold in the now Hurricane Sandy-struck Greater New York and Northern New Jersey area, accounting for 20 percent of all vehicle sales there. The Mid-Atlantic, New York and New Jersey regions account for 20 percent of all U.S. car sales. And the storm hit at the end of the month, which typically accounts for 30 percent of all sales in a month.
With the hit from Hurricane Sandy and with so many of the key players in launch mode, the midsize car category may have a lot more growth potential especially since the fuel economy has improved so vastly in the segment.