Midsize Melee: Camry Tops in September, Accord and Malibu Struggle

The sales figures for September 2011 reveal a slight shakeup in the usual order of midsize-sedan sales. Perennial Japanese leaders, the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, both saw much slower sales than usual, as did the Chevrolet Malibu. Reduced production volumes and the switchover to new model years are the primary reasons behind the declines.

Honda Accord – 18,659 September sales

In all of 2010, the Accord was America’s second best-selling midsizer, finishing the year at 282,530 sales, while the Toyota Camry took the number one spot with 327,804 sales. In September, though, slow sales meant the Accord dropped to fourth place at 18,659, behind the Camry, Nissan Altima, and Ford Fusion. In fact, through the first nine months of 2011, sales of the Accord have slipped 16.1 percent compared to the same period 2010.

Production of Honda products, including the Accord, was hampered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Japan. The resulting disruption in supply chains meant most Honda factories operated at only partial capacity through August. The interruption in production was so significant that Honda revised its financial forecast to show a 63-percent drop in annual profits.

Toyota Camry – 24,851 September sales

The Toyota Camry also suffered in September sales, beating the Nissan Altima in monthly volume by just 495 cars. Through the first nine months of 2011, sales of the Camry are down 8.9 percent compared to the same period in 2010.

The Camry is typically the top-selling car in its segment: in all of 2010, the car tallied 327,804 sales, compared to 282,530 for the Honda Accord and 229,263 for the Nissan Altima.

Toyota spokesman Sam Butto says the reduced Camry sales volume is due to lingering effects of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami. Toyota factories only returned to full production capacity at the end of September, meaning there are fewer cars available at dealerships.Butto said the company currently has only a 16-day supply of new Camrys; typically that figure is a 30- to 40-day supply.

However, as Toyota factories work overtime and the new 2012 Camry reaches dealerships, Butto said he expects sales to pick up and produce a “very strong finish to 2011.” The 2012 Camry hybrid, however, won’t be available until November.

Chevrolet Malibu– 11,114 September sales

Although September sales were down 31.8 percent year-over-year, to just 11,114 cars, the Chevrolet Malibu is still on track to sell higher volumes than last year. The Malibu’s year-to-date sales of 171,266 cars represents a 4.9-percent increase over the same period in 2010. Spokesman Dave Darovitz said this month’s sales decline can be attributed to the fact that there were fewer cars available at dealers as factories paused to switch from producing model-year 2011 to model-year 2012 Malibus.

“Chevrolet cars are having a great year this year,” Darovitz said. “We’re on track to beating our sales figures for last year.”

Indeed, Darovitz said that the Malibu would be Chevrolet’s top-selling car -- were it not for the runaway success of the Cruze compact sedan (18,097 sales in September 2011).

An all-new version of the Malibu is due in early 2012. Among the improvements for the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu is a new 2.5-liter inline-four engine that is expected to return up to 30 mpg, while producing 12 percent more power than the 2.4-liter engine it replaces. However, Darovitz said he doesn’t believe the imminent arrival of the new model will slow sales of the 2011 and 2012 Malibu.

The Winners

Three other midsize sedans -- the Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, and Nissan Altima -- have all experienced big sales growth during the first nine months of 2011: a jump of 16.6 percent year-over-year for the Fusion, 17.1 percent for the Sonata, and 18.7 percent for the Altima.

The Ford Fusion recorded its best-selling September ever, with sales jumping 22.6 percent over September 2010, to 19,510 cars; Nissan Altima sales rose 21.7 percent year-over-year to 24,356 cars. The Hyundai Sonata saw a mild year-over-year sales decline in September, down 12 percent to 18,181 cars, but cumulative annual volume remains on pace to beat that of 2010.

Sources: Honda, Toyota, Chevrolet, Ford, Hyundai, Nissan

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