Picture this: It’s 11:30 pm on a Saturday night and you flip on NBC. You just happen to tune in during the opening credits sequence of Saturday Night Live, which shows the cast members milling about in NYC while the announcer introduces them by name. These pre-shot sequences vary, but often show the comedians walking around Manhattan or hanging out at a bar. Other times they’ll be shot just stepping out of a cab, ready to enjoy a night on the town. At some point in the near future it is guaranteed they will no longer be exiting from a Ford Crown Victoria, but what you see above: a Nissan NV200.
This is the end of an era. Sure, various hybrids like the Escape and C-Max along with the Toyota Sienna and Highlander have been plying the streets of New York for several years now, but the demise of the Crown Victoria mirrors the decline of the sedan in an even broader sense.
The Toyota Camry, long a stalwart of the top ten best selling vehicles in the american market, is down over 4% from August 2014 to last month. Sales of the Fusion declined as well, and the Accord fell even more precipitously both in YTD numbers and from July to August 2015.
Picking up the slack are the current slate of crossovers. Explorer sales have shot up by double digits from 2014 and from July to August of this year. The Explorer is based on the D4 platform, a version of which underpins the Ford Taurus. Sadly, the LWB version of the Explorer, otherwise known as the Flex, is down over 33 percent. I fear it may not be long for this world.
The Edge, based on the CD4 platform shared with the Fusion, posted equally impressive numbers. These gains aren’t limited to just Dearborn, however. The Highlander and Pilot are picking up the slack from their trunk equipped brethren.
We’ve also essentially seen the rise of a new segment: the subcompact crossover. Along with vehicles in the next segment up, these provide a compelling reason to skip on a sedan: increased ride height, easier ingress/egress, improved options for carrying cargo, and the always sought after all wheel drive, which is less of a fuel economy penalty these days. None of this is good news for fans of sedans, as the lower price point of say, a Jeep Renegade might entice a buyer to pick it over a Chrysler 200 or even a cheaper Dart.
Now, I don’t think the sedan is actually going to die. Instead, we’ll see them become more of a niche market. Maybe it won’t be as dramatic as the decline of mainstream coupes, but I can certainly see some automakers dropping nameplates like the Legacy or the Passat if trends continue or accelerate. That of course depends on oil prices and the state of the economy. If gas prices spike and we enter another recession, you’ll see customers scramble for cheaper vehicles, although those may not necessarily be sedans, but cheap subcompact crossovers or compact hatchbacks.
That’s partially the reason why I decided to post that picture of the Ford Focus RS you see above. There have been blog posts from several popular websites about the demise of the sedan, and another recent post on a popular car mag’s web page admonishing the buying public for purchasing crossovers. I’m not going to link to the article in question mainly because it was a very poorly argued, mean spirited rant. Instead, I’ll posit why the state of the sedan would make someone angry.
It’s about masculinity. The demise of the sedan means a product like the Dodge Charger might not get a replacement. More importantly, it also threatens the development and proliferation of pony cars like the Mustang. If a performance minded Focus can keep up with a Mustang at the drag strip and the stoplight, while being able to be driven in the winter months, there is a compelling argument to pick the former at the expense of the latter. This doesn’t apply so much to GenXers as it does to the millennials, who primarily buy the hot hatches zipping around roadways near you. The decline of the pony car also has not occurred, with the Mustang selling very well since being redesigned.
That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. My best guess? Sedans will stick around in diminished numbers, largely because the adoption of modular platforms by all the major automakers ensures their survival, but they will become more decontented and packaged as value propositions. I think we’ll see manufacturers follow the Impreza model: a cheap, serviceable sedan that gets decent gas mileage, and this will extend to both the compact and midsize segments, along with optional all wheel drive. I think this shift will happen by 2030.
Feel free to state your opinion on the sedan, and let me know if you think the three box, trunk laden vehicles will fade away eventually, or not at all.