The Sedan is Dead. Long Live the Sedan?
2018 has been a weird year for the automobile. Tesla managed to eventually hit its goal of producing 5000 vehicles per week, then Elon Musk fake claimed taking Tesla private via Twitter and got himself removed as chairman by the SEC. The Trump administration started implementing retaliatory tariffs of foreign steel leading Ford and GM to claim cost increases of over a Billion (US $) each.
But, even more than that I want to talk about something weirder to me. Domestic brands are claiming the sedan is basically dead in North America. For context, these are the same brands which often refused to bring the hatchback and wagon variants of cars to the North American market citing that we are the market that likes sedans.
To fill you in on what’s been going on, earlier this year, Ford announced that by 2020, they would be getting rid of all of their cars, except for the Mustang. Earlier this week, GM has announced they’re getting rid of 6 car models, and letting go of 14-15% of it’s overall workforce. Chrysler & Dodge have already axed the Dart compact car and the 200, leaving only the Charger & 300 sedans.
Here’s a list of all of the cars lost or being cancelled:
Chrysler 200, Dodge Dart, Chevrolet Cruze, Chevrolet Sonic, Chevrolet Volt, Chevrolet Impala, Buick Lacrosse, Cadillac XTS, Cadillac CT6, Cadillac ATS, Ford Fiesta, Ford Focus, Ford Fusion, & Ford Taurus. It’s also rumoured that the Lincoln Continental will also be cancelled, but that hasn’t been confirmed at this time.
So, why is this happening? Some blame the recent steel tariffs increasing costs in segments that are at the lower end of the automotive spectrum. Others blame changing tastes of the North American public, with many consumers choosing car based crossovers instead of the cars they were based on. But is that actually the case? Kind of. Truth be told, pickup trucks still dominate the Top 3 Sales spots in Canada and the US with the F-150 being king, and with the tariffs threatening to make pickup trucks more expensive than ever, and fuel isn’t exactly cheap (especially in Canada) their sales have never been better. Crossover fever isn’t to blame for the death of the sedan. The manufacturers are.
The simple fact is if you look at most of the domestic car offerings, they’re either not good, or they feel incomplete in their execution. Let’s go through the list and you’ll see what I mean.
The Chrysler 200 was a gorgeous car, available with a 295hp V6 and even AWD. Sounds awesome? Unfortunately, under the skin, it was but a tweaked version of the horrible Chrysler Sebring, and if you got the V6 and tried to use it, the car would pull itself off the road. The Chevrolet Cruze and Sonic while better than previous offerings, still felt cheap inside, and in an age where you could make a Cruze almost 40K out the door, it was unacceptable. The Cadillacs & Buick weren’t awful cars, the ATS is actually mostly great. The problem here being the interiors still felt cheap (noticing a GM trend?) and when GM was pricing these cars on par with superior offerings from across the pond, there was no reason to buy them.
Now let’s talk about Ford. Chrysler more quietly axed the 200/Dart, and not a lot was said because they weren’t great cars. When Ford made their large announcement earlier this year, it sent shockwaves out. The Fiesta and Focus were well reviewed cars, offering a blend of practicality, decent design, and everyday fun that fit almost anyone’s budget. I have not met anymore, or read about anyone who didn’t enjoy driving the Fiesta ST. The Focus RS was the return of a hallowed legend and sat at the top of many enthusiasts performance car want lists.
So, what happened here? DCT-Gate. When redesigning the Fiesta and Focus in 2011, Ford had the bright idea of replacing the automatic transmissions with a dual clutch setup. Ford’s two highest selling vehicles after the F-150 had their “Powershift” DCT in place of an automatic. Traditionally these DCTs have been reserved for performance vehicles, with VW being the pioneer in having DCTs in more mainstream models, but they’ve also been doing it for the last 15 years or so, and in lower distributed trims. So while you could get a GTi or GLI with a DCT, but even VW knew to keep a regular automatic in the regular Golf and Jetta models until primetime. The result of this? Since 95% of buyers in North America opt for the automatic shifting option, Ford had a lot riding on this. But then they cheaped out. Instead of purchasing a DCT option from another company, or even designing a more premium option, they rushed out the “Powershift”, a transmission that was jerky at low speeds, and as it was later discovered, potentially dangerous (The jerkiness issue was enough in a friends car that. There are class action lawsuits in several countries pending/in process that could potentially mean a loss of billions of dollars to ford.
So, all of this being said, it looks pretty one sided that sedans and many cars as we know them are doomed. But not so fast, because a lot of the import brands are going to have an opportunity to thrive where it seems the domestics couldn’t.
Toyota has just unveiled the new Corolla, and unlike the Camry I critiqued previously, it actually looks really good, and they’re promising it’s the best driving one yet. Combined with Toyota reliability, and the fact that it’s offered as both a sedan and a hatch, it’s going to be a big player.
Subaru continues it’s upward ascent with the Impreza, and the Impreza based Crosstrek. While they don’t have premium interiors, Subaru’s All Wheel Drive prowess is second to none, and until recently, they were pretty much the only option in the compact segment with AWD.
Mazda just unveiled its’ brand new Mazda 3 yesterday. With a clean design, driving dynamics that have always been top of the class, newly available AWD (!!!), and updated tech in the form of the new Skyactiv X engine which is promising diesel like gas mileage from a gas engine, they’re poised to make a significant dent in the segment.
As far as a lot of the midsize/full size offerings go, I think people are either going to go into entry level luxury brands such as Acura, Lexus, Volvo, & Infiniti, or this will be the catalyst for them to jump up into a new BMW, Mercedes, or Audi where they won’t have to make as many compromises with regards to interior finishes and materials.
So, is the sedan dead? Nope, but soon the poorer choices are going to be removed as an option. It’ll be more expensive, but with people keeping vehicles longer, it makes sense to not saddle yourself with something you don’t enjoy being in, or something that actively makes your life worse.
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