Conventional wisdom suggests that it’s only a matter of time until SUVs, CUVs, pickups and other light trucks take over the automotive market, but not everyone is convinced the traditional sedan is on its way out.
If anything, Nissan says it is “doubling down on sedans” by expanding its global line-up. The automaker justifies the move by pointing to a new survey conducted for it in the U.S. and 10 other countries by market research firm Edelman Intelligence that found there is still strong interest in sedans among potential buyers, especially among millennials.
“As some of our competitors walk away from sedans, we’re seizing the opportunity,” said Ivan Espinosa, Nissan’s corporate vice president of global product strategy and planning, adding that future Nissan sedans will put a premium on meeting “the needs of buyers, particularly young people who may be looking to buy their first car.”
There is little doubt that sedans have been hit hard by the rise of utility vehicles and other light trucks that collectively account for more than two-thirds of the U.S. market so far this year, with little indication that the shift has finished.
(Honda sees opportunity to grow car sales in a light truck market. Click Here for the story.)
That has led a number of manufacturers to rethink their product plans. Ford made headlines last year when it announced it would all but completely walk away from the U.S. passenger car market, abandoning once-popular nameplates such as the Focus, Taurus and Fusion. It plans to retain only one coupe model, the Mustang.
Fiat Chrysler has similarly paired back. While it retains some import products, such as the Fiat 500 and Alfa Romeo Giulietta, it has eliminated all but the Chrysler 300 sedan and the Dodge Challenger and Charger muscle cars among its domestic brands. General Motors, meanwhile, announced last November, it will drop six sedans and close three North American assembly plants in the process.
Even some imports are re-thinking their product plans. Toyota has suggested it may also drop some sedans, though it has yet to identify any specific models.
But not all manufacturers are planning on the demise of the sedan. Those four-door models still account for more than 5 million vehicles annually, a segment that itself is larger than the U.S. luxury car market, Mike O’Brien, a Hyundai vice president of corporate planning, pointed out to TheDetroitBureau.com this week, adding that is something you shouldn’t walk away from lightly.
(Click Here for more about automakers looking for top-price full-size pickups.)
One of the key questions is whether the ongoing shift from cars to light trucks is the sort of generational change that yet could reverse itself. Certainly, over the years, there have been other product categories that have gone from hot to not, including the station wagon, the choice of millions of families during the formative years of the American Baby Boomers. The minivan surged during the time when parents were shuttling Gen-Xers to soccer practice.
And now, if the Edelman survey proves accurate, the aging of the millennial generation could bring another shift.
“Among drivers who don’t own a sedan, 75% would consider buying one now or in the future,” Nissan said in a statement describing “the results of its survey of car owners and would-be buyers around the world. For millennials, the number rises to eight in 10.” For the youngest cohort of drivers, Gen-Z, the figure is just short of seven in 10, according to Edelman.
Nissan says that helps justify its renewed development of sedans as diverse as the Altima and Sylphy, a global model introduced earlier this year at the Shanghai Motor Show.
(To see more about millennials bucking auto trends with driving choices, Click Here.)
Even if the survey doesn’t pan out to preview a resurgent market for sedans, there are some reasons why companies like Nissan – as well as Honda and Hyundai – say they aren’t following Ford’s aggressive lead. With the Detroit automakers largely out of the sedan market it will leave them with a larger share of the pie, even if that pie continues to get a bit smaller.