For the third straight month, a different car has topped the giant mid-sized sedan market, a segment that has slowed significantly this year as competition intensifies.
Sales declined in April for seven of the 10 top mid-sized cars. Overall, mid-sized car sales fell 1 percent in the month and are up just 2 percent so far this year.
That compares with a 7 percent gain for the total industry through April and is a big cool-off from the segment's 23 percent increase in 2012.
Honda Accord sales slipped 5 percent from April 2012 to 33,538, still enough to beat the Toyota Camry, which slid 14 percent to 31,710.
Sales of the segment's leader in March, the Nissan Altima, increased 35 percent to 21,991, but that was only good enough for fourth place behind the Ford Fusion, which was up 24 percent to 26,722. The Camry -- the top-selling car the last 11 years -- led in January and February.
The Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonata, Chrysler 200, Dodge Avenger and Volkswagen Passat all were down from last April.
Mustafa Mohatarem, General Motors' chief economist, said crossovers are stealing some of the momentum from mid-sized cars, since both segments appeal to similar demographics. Crossovers offer more utility and no longer have as much of a fuel-economy penalty in many cases.
Still, mid-sized cars constitute the industry's largest segment, with sales of about 885,000 units so far this year.
"Let's face it, mid-sized cars have gotten smaller and more expensive because of a variety of factors," Mohatarem said during a conference call today. "People are switching to crossovers because they satisfy the family needs very well."
The Altima, whose year-to-date sales are down 3 percent, is one of seven Nissan models getting a price cut this week in a bid to lure more shoppers. Nissan said it would reduce the car's suggested retail price by $580.
At VW, a 10 percent drop in Passat sales contributed to a 10 percent drop in overall sales for the brand, ending a streak of consecutive year-over-year increases after 31 months. Jonathan Browning, CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, said the number of recently redesigned mid-sized cars makes it difficult for other models to compete, even those that are only a year or two older.
The Accord, Fusion, Altima and Malibu were redesigned for the 2013 model year. As a result, sales are up 26 percent for the Accord and 25 percent for the Fusion through April. Sales of the Malibu are down 12 percent, which has prompted GM to accelerate a mid-cycle freshening.
"The mid-size car segment made huge gains a year ago, thanks to spanking new models in the marketplace and aggressive incentives with the sell-down of some of the older models," said Michelle Krebs, an analyst with Edmunds.com. "The segment's growth continues, but at a far slower pace. That strikes at the heart of Toyota (Camry is down 14 percent after a huge April 2012) and Hyundai (Sonata down 22 percent)."