DETROIT — For three years, the Chevrolet Sonic was a pint-sized showpiece for General Motors, proof that it's still feasible to build a subcompact car in the U.S. with unionized labor.
These days, the Sonic is all but lost in the shadow of the Trax, a crossover based on the same tiny architecture that's built in Mexico and South Korea.
The Trax has been an outsize success story for GM, which presciently spotted an opportunity in an underserved corner of the market and handily beat most competitors to the punch. It's the fastest-growing subcompact crossover in the industry, with sales soaring 33 percent this year through May.
But its arrival at the end of 2014 triggered a tailspin for the Sonic, whose 45 percent sales decline this year through May represents the biggest drop among small cars still in production. Sales of the two vehicles were nearly equal in 2015; the Trax now outsells the Sonic nearly 3-to-1.
The two vehicles embody the speed at which consumer tastes have shifted from cars to crossovers, perhaps more than any other intrabrand pair in the industry right
The good news is that these crossovers are much more profitable than the cars left sputtering in their wake. Buyers paid about $5,100 more for the Trax than the Sonic last month, according to Kelley Blue Book data, and the Trax even commands about $1,500 more than the Cruze compact car.
"It's not even costing them that much more to make the SUV versus the car off the same platform," said Karl Brauer, executive publisher for KBB and Autotrader.
But GM had surely counted on higher volumes of the Sonic to get the project, which started in 2008, into the black. And President Donald Trump's criticism of automakers' increasing Mexican production makes this an awkward time for an imported Chevy to cannibalize one built in Michigan.