With the U.S. economy climbing out a recession, and $4-per-gallon gasoline a not-too-distant memory, you might expect that only small cars and bargain brands like Kia and Hyundai are prospering.
There’s some truth to that. In a list of 10 top percentage sales gainers for 2009, there are two Kias and two Hyundais.
But there are other success stories: New models with sharp styling are finding buyers and some shoppers still can afford more than $40,000 for a car.
What’s not selling in 2009? In a word, trucks. According to AutoData Corp., no full-size pickups, no full-size SUVs, and only one minivan model saw an increase in 2009 sales, year-to-date through October.
Here are the top 10 sales gainers for 2009, by segment, based on AutoData reports for the first 10 months.
Sales: 47,233 Percent change: NA, new model Starting price: $23,530 Why it’s a winner: Styling, retro appeal
The hotly anticipated Chevrolet Camaro revives a 1970s muscle car nameplate. The new-generation 2010 Chevy Camaro went on sale in April 2009, and is outselling the Ford Mustang and the Dodge Challenger. The new Camaro has retro appeal, but also modern touches like narrow, “firing-slit” windows; an optional V-8 that shuts off half the cylinders while cruising on the highway to save gas; plus optional electric-blue “high-intensity discharge” headlights.
Sales: 32,058 Percent change: +235 percent Starting price: $29,325 Why it’s a winner: Styling, decent mileage for its size
The boxy Ford Flex is a crossover based on the same platform as the Ford Taurus and the Volvo S80. That gives it a car-like ride and decent gas mileage, plus seating and cargo capacity like a big SUV. The Ford Flex was first introduced midway through 2008. That makes comparisons a little misleading, since it’s comparing a full year in 2009 versus a partial year in 2008. Even so, the Flex has legs. Ford Flex sales were up 8.2 percent in October 2009 versus the year-ago month.
Sales: 60,106 Percent change: +28.9 percent Starting price: $10,690 Why it’s a winner: Low price, high discounts
Despite a lot of hoopla about tiny, gas-sipping small cars, most small-car sales actually cooled off in the last several months, since gas prices subsided. Sales of the rival Toyota Yaris, for instance, were off more than 40 percent in 2009 through 10 months. The Hyundai Accent is an exception that proves the rule. Besides a low sticker price and up to 36 mpg on the highway, the Accent got a boost this year from promotions like a promise to take the car back if you lose your job; a $1.49-per-gallon gas offer; plus rebates and discount financing.
Sales: 17,784 Percent change: +347 percent Starting price: $33,800 Why it’s a winner: Size and features for the money
The Hyundai Genesis is the South Korean brand’s first luxury car, and the first Hyundai with an optional V-8. It was a gamble whether customers would accept a luxury car from Hyundai. The brand is still living down a poor quality reputation from the 1980s. However, Hyundai’s new cars get high marks for quality from J.D. Power and Associates. The Genesis was first introduced in June 2008. It’s bigger than entry-level cars from European luxury makes, but priced lower, especially since the traditional luxury brands charge extra for features that come standard on the Hyundai, like leather seats.
The Kia Sedona is the only minivan on the U.S. market with 2009 sales better than 2008, according to AutoData Corp. The biggest-selling minivans are the Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, Dodge Caravan, and Chrysler Town & Country, but their sales all are down by at least 30 percent this year. The U.S. recession has probably helped Kia, with buyers looking for a bargain. On top of a low sticker price, Kia has been offering rebates on the Sedona.
Like the Kia Sedona among minivans, the Kia Sportage is the only model in its segment — small, traditional truck-based SUVs — with higher sales in 2009. The much bigger-selling Jeep Wrangler dominates the small-SUV segment, with year-to-date sales down 1.5 percent through October. The segment is losing customers to car-based crossovers like the Toyota RAV4. The Kia Sportage gets better gas mileage than many SUVs, up to 25 mpg with a four-cylinder engine. Rebates and other special promotions have also helped Sportage sales.
The Lincoln MKS is the brand’s flagship model. The Lincoln MKS debuted in August 2008, which inflates comparisons between 2009 sales and 2008. Still, the new Lincoln is holding its own in the mid-luxury segment, which is dominated by the BMW 5-Series. This year, the 2010 Lincoln MKS gets an optional engine that parent Ford calls “EcoBoost.” The turbocharged, six-cylinder EcoBoost engine generates as much power as a V-8, with no gas mileage penalty versus the standard V-6.
Sales: 5,395 Percent change: +13.3 percent Starting price: $24,950 Why it’s a winner: Miles per gallon, hip image
Highway gas mileage up to an EPA-estimated 37 mpg is a big part of the attraction for the Mini Cooper Convertible. But Mini’s distinctive styling and eco-friendly image also attract a lot of customers who could easily afford bigger, thirstier luxury cars, according to Jim McDowell, vice president in charge of Mini in the United States. Mini Cooper Convertible sales were slow before this year, because the convertible model was the last version of the Mini Cooper to get a ground-up redesign that the hardtop models got starting in 2007.
Sales: 21,371 Percent change: +72.5 percent Starting price: $29,000 Why it’s a winner: Bang for the buck, last-chance Pontiac
General Motors is dropping the Pontiac brand as part of its bankruptcy reorganization, but while they last, customers are buying up the remaining stocks of the Pontiac G8. The G8 is a modern successor to the legendary Pontiac GTO. It’s relatively tame with the standard V-6, but it can be ordered with an optional V-8 with up to 415 hp, the most powerful Pontiac ever. Surviving GM dealers will be able to service the G8.
The Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen gets a turbocharged, 2.0-liter diesel engine for the 2010 model year that gets a thrifty, EPA-estimated 30 mpg city/42 mpg highway. VW says that’s a conservative estimate, with an independent test showing 38 mpg city/44 mpg highway. The base model has a 2.5-liter, five-cylinder gasoline engine. VW is also offering free scheduled maintenance on all models for three years/36,000 miles.