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Auto Sedan continues to decline as SUVs take over

August 19, 2018

Is the sedan dead?

Not yet, say local auto dealers, but traditional-bodied cars are declining and not likely to make a comeback as they continue to take a back seat to crossovers, SUVs and small trucks.

“I don’t see it,” Todd Bennett, owner of Bruce Bennett Nissan in Wilton, said. “I think manufacturers are making crossovers more sedan-like. I just don’t see the sedan market coming back. They have been in decline for a while.”

Todd Ingersoll of Ingersoll Auto in Danbury said the race toward SUVs happened quickly, causing manufacturers to shift on the fly.

“The industry is adjusting to consumer tastes,” he said. “It’s been pretty disruptive to the industry in general because you have to adjust plants for production. I’ve been in the industry for 30 years and this trend has happened faster than any I’ve ever seen.”

Ingersoll sells Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC vehicles.

Ford Motor Co. put to rest any questions about the sedan’s demise in April when it announced it was stopping production of traditional cars, with a few exceptions, to focus even more acutely on crossovers, SUVs and light trucks. Crossovers combine features of SUVs and passenger vehicles. They typically resemble small SUVs and have high seating and clearance with car-like handling and fuel efficiency.

“Once people own an SUV or crossover, they have a hard time going back to a sedan,” David Beylouni, president of Colonial Ford in Danbury, said. “They are easier to get in and out of and that’s important as the population ages and people live longer. The compact SUV, that’s what people are buying and that’s where people are going — and it’s ages 30 to 70. It’s very broad.”

Beylouni, who also owns Subaru and Mazda dealerships in Danbury, said sedans make up only about 25 percent of his sales now as customers gravitate toward SUVs and light trucks.

“I think that will get even tighter,” he said. “I think it will get to 80-20.”

Not dead yet

While Ford’s announcement shocked the auto industry, it was not the death knell for sedans. Most manufacturers remain committed to making traditional cars, though many have scaled back production.

“Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac are committed to sedans at small levels,” Ingersoll said. “It’s still an important segment of business and we want to give customers what they want.”

Bennett, who said the small SUV Rogue and Rogue Sport are his top-selling vehicles, said Nissan is “not backing down from the sedan segment.” Nissan will introduce this fall a new all-wheel drive Altima sedan.

“Sedans have become a tough sell if they are not all-wheel drive, especially in the Northeast,” he said.

Ford feels the same way and an all-wheel drive Focus four-door hatchback will be one of the few sedans it will continue to manufacture. The maker will phase out the Fiesta, Fusion and Taurus, although Beylouni said an all-wheel drive Fusion may also be in the future for Ford.

Ford will continue to make the Mustang as it has done for more than 50 years.

“The Mustang is iconic and they’ll never give that up,” Beylouni said. “It’s too much of a halo for the brand. There will always be sedans, but, for the most part, people will buy an SUV and never look back.”

Ford will also reintroduce the Ranger, a popular mid-sized pickup, for 2019.

“That’s going to be a big deal,” Beylouni said.

Efficiency matters

The dealers feel a dramatic spike in gasoline prices, as occurred in 2008 and 2011, will not cause a rush back to compact sedans. The fuel efficiency in small SUVs and crossovers has improved to the point where consumers are comfortable sticking with the large vehicles.

“The four-cylinder small crossovers are all in the mid to high 20s in mileage and that’s satisfactory for most people,” Ingersoll said. “The mileage will only continue to get better, too.”

The Obama administration set ambitious gas-mileage standards that would require cars and light trucks to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The Environmental Protection Agency rolled back the requirements in April.

The local dealers said consumers demand high gas mileage these days, so the manufacturers continue to look at ways to make their vehicles more fuel efficient, mandates or not. Increasingly, those vehicles are crossovers, SUVs and light trucks — not sedans.

“I think Ford is ahead of the curve on this,” Beylouni said. “Other manufacturers are going down the same road. I think you’ll see more (manufacturers) doing this.”

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