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Is America's love affair with large sedans over?

Polk says high gas prices and similarities to smaller vehicles have made flagship sedans a hard sell.

By Douglas Newcomb Mar 25, 2013 1:12PM

From the land yachts of the 1950s and '60s to the supersized SUVs of the '90s, Americans have always had a love affair with large cars. Only recently have rising gas prices dampened desires for big vehicles.

While hulking vehicles such as the Cadillac Escalade and Infiniti QX56 remain less popular than they would have a decade earlier, recent model introductions indicate that the full-size sedan is experiencing something of a comeback. Chevrolet recently introduced a new Impala, Toyota unveiled a new Avalon, Hyundai launched an all-new Azera, and Nissan is working on a redesigned Maxima.

But according to auto industry forecasters at Polk, the market for large, mainstream sedans is dwindling. Sales in the segment dropped from a 5.8 percent share of the U.S. auto market in 2008 to 3.5 percent last year, Polk's data show. And in a bad sign for large sedans, that sales dip places the iconic American car segment behind even the minivan, another sizable-vehicle segment that has eroded in comparison with trendier crossovers.

Polk points outs out that U.S. car buyers’ newfound appreciation for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles in the face of higher gas prices is the main motivation for the slide in large-sedan sales. The research firm also noted that automakers have been focusing their redesigns and technologies on the midsize-sedan segment, and it predicted that smaller sedans such as the Ford Fusion and Honda Accord may soon become the largest nonluxury automobiles in America.

While we agree with Polk’s points, we have our own opinions on why the full-size sedan may be ready to ride off into the sunset: Besides just a bit more room and lower mpgs, these larger cars don’t really offer anything that their smaller sedan siblings can’t match.

When you look at the top-of-the-line Ford Taurus next to a Ford Fusion, for example, there’s not a tremendous amount of difference -- except an almost $3,000 jump in price and 3-mpg drop in combined fuel economy. Both seat five passengers and have similar interior volumes, although the Taurus has about 4 more cubic feet of trunk capacity.

In comparing the top-of-the-line Nissan Maxima to the Altima, the price difference is about $5,000, while combined fuel economy comes up short by 4 mpg. Both also seat five passengers, and the difference in maximum interior cargo volume is just over 1 cubic foot in favor of the Maxima.

With new larger sedans such as the Chevrolet SS and Kia Cadenza in the pipeline, Polk does expect that the "large-car category will survive in the near term.” And for luxury automakers, buyers who want to live large are still buying their flagship sedans, although Polk noted that sales of large luxury cars, dominated by BMW and Mercedes-Benz, have slipped from 0.76 percent to 0.46 percent of the total US sales market.

[Source: Polk via Autoblog]

Mar 26, 2013 4:22AM

In the face of high gas prices consumers are considering fuel economy, yes.  I also think with less money to spend on the payments the consumers have to look at value.  They are having to ask themselves how much a status symbol is worth to them.  Remember, status is spending money you don't have on things you don't need in order to impress people you don't know or don't like.

Mar 25, 2013 3:34PM
Well midsized sedans have gotten so large now, there is no need for even bigger ones.
Mar 26, 2013 8:02AM
For my part I love big cars. If I ever go to a small car, it will be because there are no big cars left. But if I have to choose between, let's say, a car like a prius or a dog sled, I will take the dog sled.
Mar 25, 2013 6:38PM

i agree with Vyech below.  The SIZE of a midsize sedan/coupe had grown tremendously in the past 10 years.  The Altima use to be available with a 6spd manual and the 3.5L Z motor making it somewhat of a cheap sports car for those liking FWD winter traction.  Now, the altima is only CVT, NO maual gear box, is much larger and heavier than 6 years ago.  The cost of a Maxima has jumped $8K in last 6 years FULLY optioned out compared to same past model.

  The Subaru Impreza is NOW the size of the 04-07 Legacy with the Legacy basically a sport crossover size vehicle. The SMALL crossovers are non existenrt except for the Nissan funk machine and Kia SOUL

Everything has gotton massive to haul our fat American butts around. 

Mar 26, 2013 8:24AM

i disagree, with cars like the chrysler 300 and the dodge charger capable of 31 mpg, i don't see those going away.


Mar 26, 2013 8:49AM
It's like everything else.  You pay more for less.
Mar 26, 2013 9:16AM

large cars are no longer available.    All you can buy today are  what they used to call small cars and subcompact.   


Ford stopped advertising the crown vic in favor of a smaller more expensive Fusion.   Then they cancelled it. 


The crown vic and Lincoln town car would have been a good substitute for suvs for people that needed bigger cars.   These cars could carry and fully protect 6 passengers. 


The best part about that car was you could drive it at 90 and it would still get 22.5 mpg on the highway.


The only problenm with this luxury model was that groups like msnbc didnt consider it a luxury car because it wasnt expensive enough.   This even though the fact that it had a better ride than the ones they did consider luxury cars.

Mar 26, 2013 8:43AM
A smaller car doesn't necessarily mean better gas mileage. Maybe the real reasons car makers are building more smaller cars is that they are cheaper to make (less materials, etc.).
Mar 26, 2013 8:41AM
I had a small car once.  I bought a television at the store and couldn't get it home without completely taking it out of the box because the space inside cars is just too small.  I traded it in, bought an SUV and have never looked back.  You just never know when you need to transport something bigger than a microwave oven.
Mar 26, 2013 9:12AM
"If i was president i would have people in prison building soler panels in the dessert"

That is actually a good idea, although you probably meant "solar panels in the desert". "Dessert" is what we get after the main meal.
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