The Full-Size Sedan Segment Is Suffering

Source: Chrysler
Source: Chrysler

“V8, full-size and in a¬†class of one” essentially sums up the current state of affairs in what was once a burgeoning segment of the automotive industry. That’s Autoblog’s Seyth Miersma, introducing the 2015 Chrysler 300S for his recent review of the car — and as he points out, one of the last of its species.

You see, outside of the luxury space, large, V8-powered sedans are becoming increasingly hard to come by. Those willing to through down in excess of $70,000, $80,000, or $90,000 (or more) will have plenty of vehicles to choose from, like a BMW M5, a Mercedes S550, or even a Lexus LS. Or the recently announced Cadillac CTS-V.

But as far as consumer-grade large sedans? They’re seemingly becoming an endangered species. Though a big, comfy four-door car was one a staple of many American households, and even a symbol of success in some regards, consumers have shifted their preferences in other directions in recent years. The result? A market that is becoming increasingly bare. Though Chrysler has the 300, and its corporate cousin Dodge has the Charger bolstering its lineup, other automakers are headed in a different direction.

Chevy and Ford are still building the Impala and Taurus, but neither has a V8 engine. As for foreign competitors, Toyota’s Avalon is a formidable rival to cars like the 300, but even it is starting to become more of a luxury-style Camry.

Yet, despite industry trends indicating that full-size sedans are falling out of favor with consumers, Chrysler seems to be betting a lot of chips on the 300’s success. It may be on to something, as according to the company’s own sales numbers, the 300 saw a jump of 18% just within the past month. That pales in comparison, however, to the 155% growth of the 200 mid-size car over the the same time period.

Source: Ford

But how have other full-size sedans fared? Chevrolet’s Impala has done fairly well in 2014, although there really isn’t much buzz about it overall. And the major difference between the Impala and the 300 is the V8 engine, once again. As for Ford, the Taurus has been quiet on the sales front. Very quiet. In fact, all the buzz out of Ford headquarters has revolved around booming sales numbers for the F-Series pickup trucks, SUVs like the Escape, and the Fusion. The Taurus actually has seen a significant decline in sales this year of 21.6% year over year, as of September.

For 2014 as a whole, things have definitely not looked too good for full-size sedans. Though it’ll still be a little bit before we can get data for the second half of the year, going back through data from the first half clearly shows that consumers are buying SUVs, pickup trucks and compact or mid-size sedans in droves. But full-size cars? Nary a one in the bunch, at least according to Motor Trend’s report.

So that brings us to the next question, the answer to which we already know: where are all the customers going?

Well, it’s obvious that midsize sedans are winning the hearts of consumers, those that are opting for a car over an SUV or a pickup truck, that is. While midsize sedans have been long-time best-sellers, especially models like Honda’s Accord and Civic, along with Toyota’s Camry and Corolla, Americans are headed to dealerships in droves to reinvigorate SUV sales. A lot of that has to do with declining oil prices, which are making owning bigger, less fuel-efficient vehicles a viable choice once again.

Yet, despite the renewed interest in bigger SUVs and pickups, all remains quiet on the full-size sedan front. The fact of the matter appears to be that Chrysler is making a bet on large car with a V8 engine that is being vastly outsold by its smaller, more compact sibling.

All of this begs the question of whether or not there is a future at all for full-size sedans as the auto market evolves and consumers gravitate one way or the other — toward small, compact cars, or toward bigger vehicles, like SUVs or pickups.

As Chrysler tries to resurrect interest in big cars in order to prepare for the 2015 300, the stark reality of the situation may be setting in. According to a Wall Street Journal report from early December, large cars aren’t simply being edged out of the market. They’re getting smoked. November total unit sales, compiled by Motor Intelligence and reported by The Wall Street Journal, show that a mere 288 large cars were brought home by consumers. That’s out of nearly 600,000 total cars sold, not counting SUVs or trucks.

Now, if those numbers seem a little odd, it’s because, well, they do. Data from another source, Good Car Bad Car, paints a different picture, but it’s not much prettier. GCBC’s sales figures show that almost every large sedan on the market has seen a drop in sales this year, with an overall drop in large car sales between November 2013 and November 2014 of 8.2%.

With these numbers in mind, it looks as though Chrysler may be marching into a buzzsaw.

If these numbers are any indication as to the future of the big car market, it may not be too far-fetched to say that there isn’t going to be one soon. Automakers really won’t be able to justify keeping large sedans in their lineups if sales numbers are going to be so low, as even expending the resources to not only build, but advertise and market those vehicles, would far outweigh the revenues they generate.

But the fight to rediscover America’s love affair with big cars fights on, mostly by American companies. Lincoln, Buick, and Cadillac come to mind, although those three tend to walk the line between luxury and consumer-oriented brands. But the trend can’t be denied, large cars look to be on the way out.

Chrysler is definitely taking a risk with the new and improved 300, despite the evidence that they’re likely going to have trouble. Of course, there was some positive news from last month’s sales numbers, but the 300 couldn’t even come close to what the 200 put up. The 300 may be the last gasp out of a dying segment, as no other manufacturers seem eager to jump in by investing in a V8-powered, full-size sedan of their own.

Will the 300’s ultimate success or failure decide the fate for the segment overall? It very well could. At least until Americans, and the rest of the world, learn to love large cars all over again.