Plenty to watch in last half of '17
U.S. auto sales are running short of last year's record pace nearing the halfway point of 2017. Light trucks are hot. Cars are not.
But while volume has fallen 2 percent through May, several old-fashioned races are shaping up to keep the second half of the year lively. Here's a guide, based on five months of data, in advance of next week's release of June results.
For starters, can the Toyota Camry remain America's best-selling car? It has led the pack for a decade and a half, but that lead is tenuous because of a midyear model changeover. Sales of the outgoing Camry have fallen 12 percent, right in line with the average for all cars. But stablemate Corolla and a relatively new Honda Civic are hot on Camry's heels. If Toyota bobbles the July launch of the redesigned next-gen Camry, it could finish 2017 as low as No. 3.
The Camaro and Challenger are making this year's pony car race closer than normal simply by holding their own, while Mustang sales are off 28 percent. One near-certainty: Expect the Mustang to lead this trio of Detroit iron to yet another annual crushing of the field of 23 other sporty models.
Newcomer Bolt has taken an early lead over the more established Leaf in the tiny but hard-fought below-$50,000 battery-electric sub- segment. Nissan just upgraded the Leaf on power and range, but the Bolt has early momentum and will expand availability to all 50 states in August. But even including the more expensive Tesla Model S, pure electric cars have yet to snag a full percent of U.S. car sales.
The Ram outsold the aging Silverado for a third consecutive month in May and is threatening to snatch from Chevy the No. 2 spot behind the Ford F series in this highly profitable segment. In 2016, the Silverado beat the Ram by 85,000 units, but this year's battle may rest on which manufacturer is willing to discount the most.
It's a shootout in compact crossovers, a segment that has become the heart of the U.S. market. A freshened Rogue has jumped 35 percent to move to the top spot from No. 3 in 2016, while the CR-V has surged 23 percent. The segment is bristling with fresh entries, with the top nine boosting sales so far this year.
It's further proof of how far the U.S. market has shifted to light trucks, with the largest car segment trailing the No. 2 light truck grouping. In 2016, compact cars edged full-size pickups. But this year, compact cars are off 4.7 percent while sales of big pickups are 4.1 percent higher.
Small crossovers are closing in on small cars, echoing the shift in the larger segments. Subcompact car sales have plunged 18 percent this year, while subcompact crossovers jumped 14 percent. The small cars' 2016 margin of victory was 143,000 units. This year, fresh crossovers such as the Honda HR-V, Buick Encore and Chevrolet Trax are pushing the segment-leading Jeep Renegade, but car-side entries are aging.
With all pickups leading by less than 10,000, this race could go either way. This time last year, pickups were ahead by almost 50,000 units and won 2016 handily as midsize pickups surged 26 percent. But this year, the smaller pickups are barely holding their own and compact crossovers have a growth rate double that of pickups.
Acura and Cadillac have battled back and forth for the No. 5 luxury brand position for several years, and it's nip-and-tuck this year — but for sixth place now, with Infiniti surging 24 percent to leapfrog them both. Cadillac led Acura after four months, but Honda's luxury marque moved ahead in May with a 728-unit edge over its Detroit rival. Acura prevailed in 2012 and 2015, Cadillac in 2013, 2014 and 2016.
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