- Published: Wednesday, 23 March 2016 17:45
As CarBuyer has reported in recent times, it’s truly the era of the sports utility vehicle (SUV) now. Our December 2014 ‘Cross Overload’ and October 2015 ‘XXX Rated’ issues reflected the changes in car buying behaviour both in Singapore and around the world.
The common refrain now is that SUVs are the fastest growing car segment all over the globe, compared to every other body style including the most popular segment (for now, at least) sedans.
The three-box format of a sedan/saloon (US and UK terms, respectively) has long been the default body style for car buyers around the world. Cars haven’t always looked like sedans - the earliest automobiles looked, quite logically, like horse-drawn cars without a horse. It was only after the 1930s that fully-enclosed automobiles with a boot - sedans as we know them now - became widespread, so much so that it’s now the ‘default’ body style for a car. But that’s already changed.
In August 2015, the International Business Times reported on its website that “Automakers with a strong selection of SUVs, crossovers (small SUV-like cars built on sedan platforms) and pickup trucks fared better than manufacturers who depend heavily on sedan sales, like Honda and Toyota.”¹
Ford’s Chief Technical Officer, Raj Nair, told Autonews Europe in February 2016:
“Almost worldwide we see an increase in desire for utilities (SUVs and trucks) and the segment that's suffering the most is the sedan, whether it's the CD sedans or even C and B sedans (In our terms, large, small and compact sedans - Ed.).”
Nair’s conclusion is in line with actual car sales figures in the USA. Sedans have always been strong sellers in the USA, historically dominating the market, but in 2014 SUVs/crossovers overtook them for the first time, at 36.5 percent, compared to 35.4 for sedans. Compared to 2009, sedans netted 36.3 percent, versus SUVs at 31.4 percent, according to industry analysis firm IHS Automotive.
That’s a trend also echoed over a smaller timescale here in Singapore.
Car Registration Figures By Month/Body Style 2015 - 2016*
||2663 / 37.7%
||778 / 11%
|Sedan + HB
||4052 / 57.9%
||412 / 11.7%
||796 / 11.4%
||1094 / 15.5 %
||764 / 21.6%
||1975 / 28.2%
||2420/ 34.2 %
||227 / 6.4%
||176 / 2.5%
||117 / 1.60 %
*In 2015 the LTA began reporting car registration figures by body style, although the sedan and hatchback categories were reported as a single figure. In Jan 2016, this was segregated.
The Motor Traders’ Association of Singapore used to report annual figures for its members (the majority of car dealers here) with a complete breakdown by model/engine type, but that’s no longer the case. In 2015 the Land Transport Authority began reporting car registration figures by body type, although it conflated sedans and hatchbacks into one category - early 2016 saw the figures done in ‘proper’ style, with sedans, hatchbacks, coupe/convertibles, MPVs/wagons and SUVs all separated.
Looking at the chart, January 2016’s figures would have seen sedans/hatchbacks get a combined share of 48.7 percent, which is significantly less than 60.3 percent and 57.9 percent of January and June 2015 respectively. On the other hand, SUV sales have climbed from 21.6 percent, to 28.2 percent and 34.2 percent over the same time frame - presumably thanks to sales taken from ‘regular’ sedans or, to a lesser extent, hatchbacks.
Cars like the Nissan Qashqai are giving traditional sedans a hard time
Nissan, like most Japanese brands, did a roaring business in sedans in years past with strong sellers like the Sunny, but it was one of the brands which was able to capitalise on the crossover craze with it strategically-priced Qashqai 1.2.
It pronounced itself the leading SUV seller in 2015, moving 2,859 crossovers over the entire year, the vast majority (2,332 units) of those being Nissan Qashqais.
Ron Lim, general manager for sales and marketing at Nissan distributor Tan Chong Motor Sales, said, “(SUV) prices have become more affordable and customers perceive them as an alternative choice suitable for daily driving. SUVs like the Qashqai deliver a sporty and premium image, and there’s now a wide range of them available, so they’ll appeal to anyone from singles to those with families.”
The key draws for Nissan’s SUV customers, said Mr Lim, were the sporty image, a high riding position and sense of security, plus more versatility and practicality.
But does all this spell a sunset for saloons? Not necessarily.
It all hinges on whether the SUV trend is a craze or a lasting shift in buying behaviour, all the while taking into account regional trends. But although SUVs have made big inroads to sedans, the latter is still the most popular body style around - by a hair.
GM for brand management at Lexus Asia Pacific, Giri Venkatesh, told CarBuyer, “ I think the sedan body type will continue to be the majority of vehicle sales overall especially in Asia for the next five to 10 years. I think from a consumer behavior point of view, the sedan still represents a kind of emotional bond between driver, machine and the road especially for younger drivers.”
It’s also possible we are close to ‘saturation point’ for SUVS: The increase in SUV sales have largely been possible as a result of smaller, more affordable and more desirable models like the Honda HR-V that have been a hit with younger buyers.
Mazda's CX-3 compact SUV, not launched here yet, but already a strong seller overseas
Now, there’s nearly an SUV for every segment size, from compact (Mazda CX-3) to large luxury (Bentley Bentayga, Infiniti QX80) so it is possible that the potential market for SUVs has already reached its apogee.
Mercedes-Benz, for example, now boasts a total of seven crossover/SUV models in its line-up (GLA, GLC, GLC Coupe, GLE, GLE Coupe, GLS, G-Wagen) and it’s hard to imagine any new ‘cross-niches’ that can be filled.
In the meantime, it’s not like sedans and saloons are all standing still, either, as they’re benefitting from the same material and design advancements that make modern SUVs no longer tall, heavy and ugly.
“We’re starting to see more interesting design cues in body style both in the mass and luxury segment. As democratization and affluence grows at a younger age, I believe manufacturers will also present sedans with more sporty body styles,” added Venkatesh.
While Lexus has certainly upped the visual ante on its own sedans (see the IS F Sport review this issue for an example), sedans that look good and perform well certainly aren’t thin on the ground, as this issue’s set of reviews are anything to go by.
There are still nine months of 2016 to go, and there’s also a large number of significant sedan launches to go this year, including traditionally strong sellers like the Honda Civic and Hyundai Elantra. SUVs and crossovers might be roughing up their ride but sedans, we think, aren’t falling out of the saddle just yet.
¹‘August 2015 US New Auto Sales: Americans Shrug At Global Market Volatility, Buy Cars At The Highest Pace In A Decade’. Dated August 1, 2015, Author: Angelo Young. http://www.ibtimes.com/august-2015-us-new-auto-sales-americans-shrug-global-market-volatility-buy-cars-2078135
Honda's new Civic, due for launch later this year, packs a 180bhp turbo engine
Sweet sedans for 2016
2016 looks like a rocking year for sedans with a number of important four-doors debuting this year
We’re not even past the first quarter of 2016 and already a brace of strong-performing four-doors have debuted here in Singapore. The flipside is, judging from this issue’s review line-up at least, there are also quite a few SUVs for them to contend with.
Nevertheless, the likes of the Lexus IS Turbo, Honda Legend, Mazda 2 and Kia Optima are nothing to be sniffed at. The IS Turbo is a harbinger of the ‘democratisation’ of turbo power, as Chevrolet’s new Cruze sedan, the next Honda Civic will both pack small-capacity turbos with plenty of punch and efficiency. Naturally the same Lexus 2.0 turbo is also going to be found in the Lexus GS, while the high-performance V8 version, the GS F, is also on sale in Singapore as we speak.
READ MORE: Super Sedans
CarBuyer tests the current crop of impressive four doors
Hyundai Elantra Elite: Segment leader in some surprising ways
Kia Optima K5: A Korean that drives better than a Continental
Lexus IS Turbo: Is a 240bhp turbo just what the 3 Series rival has always needed?
Mazda 2 Sedan: Redefining cheap, small and good Japanese
Mercedes-Benz E 300: So good it'll drive itself when you don't want to
Other strong performers are the Hyundai Elantra, which looks set to up the game for less expensive East Asian sedan offerings in a big way, while Mercedes will be face-lifting its runaway hit, the CLA small sedan too.
Other four-doors landing this year include Audi’s lighter, tighter A4, Jaguar’s significantly improved XJ luxury limo, the revised Chrysler 300C and the might-worry-the-Germans Volvo S90.