Full-size Sedan Faithful, Take Heart – Fifth-gen Toyota Avalon Due Next Year; Toyota Says “We’re Committed”

U.S. sales of full-size, volume brand sedans fell 17 percent in the first seven months of 2017, a sharp drop to follow up noteworthy declines in each of the last three years. Despite the growth the market seen since the auto industry’s collapse in 2009, big sedans have lost 37 percent of their U.S. sales volume over the last four years.

Compared with 2013, that’s 18,000 fewer sales for the segment every month. Even compared with 2016, that’s 6,500 fewer sales every month.

In what was historically a fleet-dependent corner of the passenger car market, many automakers’ reduced emphasis on sales to daily rental companies plays a major role. Numerous players in the segment also attempted to move upmarket, further away from the midsize cars that now offer the requisite interior volume. It hasn’t turned out so well for some. Remember the Mitsubishi Diamante and Mercury Montego? We’ll soon forget the discontinued Hyundai Azera. The Ford Taurus is likely not long for this market, either.

Yet in a market that’s lost 17 percent of its sales this year, the Toyota Avalon has shed 28 percent of its year-to-date volume, a loss of 7,475 sales. With an all-new 2018 Camry set to generate more than its fair share of Toyota sedan sales, does the Avalon even deserve a place in Toyota’s 2018 lineup?

Indeed it does, as Toyota will launch the fifth-generation, TNGA-based Avalon in 2018. “We’re committed to Avalon,” says Toyota North America’s executive vice president for sales, Bob Carter.

Speaking to Wards Auto, Carter expressed the view that automakers did in fact see the crossover trend approaching, but that cars remain vital components in Toyota’s lineup. That’s reflected in the fact that Toyota’s brand boss Jack Hollis believes the industry will settle in with a 63/37 ratio of light trucks to cars, ending the passenger car sector’s rapid decline.

And while the launch of an all-new Camry looks like the very kind of event that could squeeze the already-fading Avalon out of Toyota’s lineup, Toyota’s Bob Carter believes the opposite is true. “Because we’ve taken Camry to such a significantly different place… that really increases the importance of Avalon.”

Toyota has sought to up the Camry’s performance ante and emphasize its sedan nature with lower ride height and more aggressive styling.Previous to Carter’s exchange with Wards, a plant executive at the Georgetown, Kentucky, facility where the Camry, Avalon, and Lexus ES are assembled essentially confirmed the TNGA-based Avalon’s timing. With Carter’s commitment to the Avalon’s future, one wonders whether Toyota can produce the same kind of temporary rebound the fourth-gen Avalon achieved in 2013.

Toyota had averaged only 31,000 annual U.S. Avalon sales for the half-decade prior to the then-new 2013 Avalon’s launch. But then Avalon volume jumped to 70,990 units in 2013, a six-year high, albeit well off the 95,318-unit sales pace achieved in 2005 when the third-gen Avalon was launched.

U.S. Avalon sales fell 5 percent in 2014, 11 percent in 2015, and 20 percent in 2016. Through the first seven months of 2017, U.S. Avalon sales are down 55 percent compared with the model’s 2013 launch year. The Avalon is easily outselling the Buick LaCrosse, but trails the Dodge Charger, Nissan Maxima, Chevrolet Impala, Chrysler 300, and Ford Taurus by wide margins, claiming a 9-percent share of the segment.

[Images: Toyota]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.


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