Sales of Culled GM Sedans Tell the Story

We’d love to create our own reality, but it’s not achievable. Not while other people exist. I’d prefer a vehicular landscape populated with vinyl-topped sedans and formal personal luxury coupes and regular cab pickups, but alas, the personal buying choices of millions of consumers have stymied those childhood dreams.

With a few rare exceptions, coupes are now the domain of ballsy muscle cars, not front-drive compacts. Sedans were vanishing even before GM’s Monday decision to cull half-a-dozen four-door models. Fiat Chrysler said goodbye to the compact and midsize field a couple of years ago. Meanwhile, Ford has no plans to populate the roadways with anything other than the Mustang and a bevy of light trucks in the near future.

Sad times for lovers of the traditional car, for sure. Still, General Motors’ decision to shutter underperforming plants in pursuit of higher-margin light trucks (and whatever EV or AV action the future holds) shouldn’t come as a surprise. One look at historical sales figures shows the writing was on the wall for General Motors’ crop of soon-to-be-discontinued sedans.

In 2012, just six years ago, some 58 percent of GM sales in the U.S. involved some form of light truck. Over the first three quarters of 2018, that figure was 79.3 percent. That’s a sea change for an automaker already well-stocked with pickups and SUVs.

Through the end of September, Chevrolet Impala sales fell 13.4 percent, year to date. Compared to the model’s high water mark of 2007, however, the Impala’s Q3 figure is 82.4 percent lower than in the same period of that heady year. Chevy Cruze sales fell 25.6 percent, year to date, in 2018, but the loss grows to 56.8 percent if you contrast it with Q3 2014 figures. 2014 was the Cruze’s best sales year.

As for the Volt, 2016 marked the model’s best sales year, but only by a hair compared to 2012. The American election and subsequent fears of a culled EV tax credit sparked a surge of sales that December, inflating the annual tally. Regardless, Volt sales are down 13.4 percent in 2018, and 18.9 percent from 2016.

You don’t have to guess how the Buick LaCrosse fared during this tumultuous decade. It’s well documented. In 2010, the first full year after the LaCrosse nameplate took over full-size duties from the defunct Lucerne (I still see more Lucernes on the road than LaCrosses), Americans lined up for traditional big-car living, then promptly disappeared. LaCrosse sales over the first three quarters of 2018 are 71.8 percent lower than the same period in 2012, and 14.2 percent lower than the same period last year.

Cadillac’s XTS front-drive full-sizer has already seen one production reprieve in its lifetime, and its execution notice was the only one that didn’t take anyone by surprise. Still, the XTS was a relatively consistent seller thanks to its popularity among livery companies. Sales of the Caddy sedan peaked in 2013, with volume falling 46.6 percent between Q3 2013 and Q3 2018.

As for the CT6 flagship sedan, the model never really took off after its release in 2016 — a fate it shared with Lincoln’s reborn Continental. If the first XT4s hadn’t shown up on the sales ledger in Q3 2018, the CT6 would be the lowest volume vehicle in the Cadillac stable, and even then, sales are down 10.6 percent from a year ago.

Americans buyers don’t care that auto journos wouldn’t be caught dead driving a crossover. The thought of a Chevy Equinox in their driveway appeals to them far more than the thought of a Kia Stinger taking up real estate in front of their home. How many Equinoxes did GM sell over the first three quarters of 2018? 234,379. Put another way, that’s roughly 38,000 more sales than the six GM sedans put together.

Whether or not GM can make use of the Oshawa, Lordstown, or Detroit-Hamtramck plants for new, profitable products remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that the products they did produce had little in the way of a future.

a version of this report first appeared on thetruthaboutcars.com

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