Read any automotive publication in the last week, and it’s easy to understand the slow, agonizing death of cars in the U.S. General Motors announced it’d like to discontinue six models—the Cadillac CT6, Cadillac XTS, Chevrolet Impala, Chevrolet Cruze, Chevrolet Volt, and Buick LaCrosse. Aside from the liftback profile of the Volt, all of these vehicles are sedans in the traditional sense.
The announcement came several months after Ford detailed similar plans, preparing to discontinue the Focus, Fusion, Taurus, and others by 2020. If you looked at all the stories flying around the internet, you’d think the sedan as we know it today is on its death bed. But it appears the affliction is isolated to American sedans.
A closer look at sales numbers shows not all sedans are created equal—at least in the eyes of the consumer. Sales for cars such as the Impala and LaCrosse have plummeted since 2010. For example, in 2010, Chevy Impala sales totaled 172,078 while Buick LaCrosse sales amounted to 61,178 Last year, they sold 75,877 and 20,161, respectively. Ford cars faced steep declines, too.
However, if you look at automakers across the Pacific, car sales haven’t dipped as they have for U.S.-based automakers, as this editorial from Bloomberg explains. Japanese automakers built their reputations on affordable, fuel-efficient, and reliable cars like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. Collectively, Honda and Toyota sold around 1.4 million cars over just four different models last year. The Civic saw one of its best years in 2017, selling 377,000 examples in the U.S. alone.
Why then, are American cars suffering? Well, according to the Bloomberg piece, perception. Americans embraced Japanese cars in the early 1970s when the U.S. faced a harsh oil embargo. American automakers tried to respond, ushering out new, compact models that were meant to compete with their Japanese rivals, yet failed to do so due to poor quality, abysmal reliability, and inferior fuel efficiency. That impression hasn’t left the minds of American consumers.
Sedans from General Motors and other American automakers have improved tremendously since the 1970s; however, they still often trail Japanese cars in sales, reliability, and resale value. GM and others abandoning cars in the U.S. aren’t about an imploding market—it’s a white flag of defeat. GM can make exceptional cars; however, it’s not enough to sway consumers from the grips of Honda and Toyota.