Hot-Selling Cars in 2007
Convertibles, small cars and hybrids are in while big pickup trucks and Hummers aren't as popular as they used to be.
In fact, the Prius and Civic Hybrid are on track to set U.S. sales records in calendar 2007.
Small Cars Are "Big"
Also big on shoppers' lists today: small cars—especially the newer ones such as subcompacts—with small price tags, accommodating interiors and, of course, good gas mileage.
Toyota's smallest and lowest-priced car, the Yaris, is on pace to double its sales in 2007 over 2006. This could mean sales of the little Yaris could approach a respectable 100,000 this year, which is on par with the better-known, long-running Volkswagen Jetta.
What's the appeal? Introduced in calendar 2006 and with a starting price of less than $12,000, the five-seat Yaris has promised Toyota quality and is rated at 34 miles a gallon in city driving and 40 mpg on the highway as a 2007 model.
Sales also are on track to double this year for Honda's smallest car, the Fit, which starts at less than $14,000 and features government fuel mileage ratings as high as 33/38 mpg for 2007.
"Small is big right now," said Dick Colliver, executive vice president at American Honda Motor Co. "Smaller vehicles have become more attractive."
The Best-Selling SUV?
In another dramatic shift among car buyers, this year's top-selling SUV doesn't come with a gas-guzzling V8 or even a V6, and it's not from Detroit. It's the Honda CR-V with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine developing half the horsepower—166—that a V8 might.
With a moderate size, commendable 2007 government fuel economy rating of 23 miles a gallon in city driving and 30 mpg on the highway and a starting retail price around $22,000, the CR-V appeals to both mileage- and budget-conscious buyers.
The second most popular SUV in 2007 is another smaller-sized model without a V8, the Ford Escape. In fact, a hybrid version of the Escape qualifies as the top SUV in gas mileage. The Ford Escape Hybrid has a 2007 rating of 41/32 mpg. The higher city mileage stems from the fact that city driving allows for more usage of the onboard, supplemental electric motor.
Maybe the appearance of these smaller, fuel-thrifty SUVs as top sellers begs the question: Should Americans really call SUVs "big, bad gas guzzlers" anymore?
A Bevy of Convertibles
Americans can't seem to resist open-air cars, and with at least five new convertibles introduced over the past couple years, convertible sales are likely to hit a new high in 2007.
Pontiac's Solstice, with two seats and a starting price of less than $22,000, leads Volkswagen's Eos hardtop convertible, starting at just over $28,000, among the newest models in 2007 sales. Saturn's first-ever convertible, the Sky roadster, is coming on strongly, too. It's a sibling vehicle of the Solstice and starts around $25,000.
But don't count out the indefatigable Miata. Mazda's long-running and popular MX-5 Miata continued to outsell each of these newcomers in early 2007.
The Miata is lower-priced than the others, with a starting retail price under $21,000. It's also the only one of the bunch in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's top-selling roadster.
Not everything is predictable in car buyer trends, gleaned from U.S. sales reports released by automakers for the first six months of 2007.
Cadillac's big, blingy Escalade SUV has not only maintained its sales. It has increased them over calendar 2006's levels.
The Escalade, star of umpteen hip hop music videos, is a luxury ride with a starting price around $55,000. There is, as many Escalade fans attest, nothing else quite like it, especially when it's customized to the hilt with big wheels, alcantara upholstery and multiple video screens inside.
Mercedes-Benz is doing well, too, this year with its biggest SUV in America. The full-size Mercedes GL-Class—an Escalade competitor that's also priced over $50,000—posted sales gains in 2007. In fact, sales of the GL doubled in early 2007 over the same period in 2006.
More full-size Chevrolet Suburban SUVs were sold in early 2007 than in the same period last year. The Suburban has a reputation as a stalwart vehicle for hauling the family and towing trailers, boats and the like.
Ford's full-size F-Series pickup truck continues as America's top-selling vehicle, though sales have been declining for three straight years. Still, for every new Honda Civic sold in 2007, there are likely to be two Ford F-Series pickups sold.
All other Buick vehicles—from the Lucerne sedan to Rainier SUV—are selling more slowly than they did last year. In fact, South Korean automaker Hyundai already has sold more vehicles in the U.S. —more than 236,000—than Buick is likely to sell here for the full year.
Environmentalists will hail this news: U.S. sales of all Hummers this year are down. The Hummer brand, known as the poster brand for gas guzzlers, is struggling with its obvious image problem plus newfound consumer interest in fuel economy. Company officials are keeping chipper, though, and hope sales stay even, overall, for the year.
Maybe the "retro" look is finally starting to wear thin for U.S. car buyers. Every one of the major retro-styled cars that debuted in recent years—the Volkswagen New Beetle, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Chevrolet HHR and Ford Mustang—posted notable sales declines in the first half of 2007.
Ann Job is a freelance automotive writer.
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