It’s official: sedans are an endangered species. And while numbers haven’t reached critical levels yet, there’s definitely room for concern. Scheduled resurrections of the Chevy Blazer, Ford Bronco, Jeep Wagoneer, and Lincoln Aviator, as well as restyling of the Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Santa Fe, and Subaru Forester all signal that automakers see profit in evolution. And one of the biggest investors in this sport-utility future is Ford—who is going boldly where no man has gone before. With news breaking in April that the automaker planned to kill nearly all its traditional cars—including the popular Ford Fusion —many began to wonder if this was just another victim in the slow death of the sedan. But while the numbers may look dismal, much like the (adorable) Giant Panda, this classic platform still packs enough star power to keep it in the public eye.
Fortune Favors the Bold
Globally, traditional passenger cars are still on top. But that status is quickly being threatened by the accelerated growth of SUVs and crossovers. Industry forecaster LMC Automotive reports that SUV sales are up 87% since 2013, while car sales have dropped 8%. And to add insult to injury, the company predicts that SUV purchases will account for almost 40% of the global market by 2025—and over 50% of the US market by 2020. Faced with that data, it’s easy to see why automakers are flocking to the platform like a 19th century prospector to the California Gold Rush. But axing the Fiesta, Fusion, Taurus, and C-Max hybrid in one fell swoop? What is Ford playing at?
It’s an audacious move, to be sure, but one the automaker claims is calculated and profitable. The death of the sedan is coming, they say, and the writing is on the wall. But just four short years ago, that writing showed the Ford Fusion reaching record sales numbers—enough to warrant the addition of a second production factory. So, is Ford putting the cart before the horse? Is it betting on the future or merely reacting to the present?
Fact: Ford loses money on sedans.
Automotive News reported that “Ford loses an estimated $800 million a year selling cars in North America.” Meanwhile, in the first quarter of 2018, the automaker raked in over $3 billion on what CFO Bob Shanks calls the “high performing” parts of the business, i.e. trucks, SUVs, and crossovers.
Fact: Overall sedan sales are down—and they’ve been that way for a while.
People just aren’t buying passenger cars at the rates they used to. IHS Automotive reported back in 2014 that retail registrations of SUVs and crossovers had officially surpassed sedans. Since then, those numbers have continued to grow apart with last year showing 41.7% of US registrations going to the segment.
Fact: Utility vehicles are more fuel-efficient.
SUVs and crossovers aren’t the gas guzzlers they used to be. For example, compared to the 2018 Honda Accord’s 30 city / 38 highway mpg, the 2018 CR-V gets up to 28 city / 34 highway, costs less than $1,000 more at standard MSRP and offers more height, more legroom, and double the cargo room. If the days of high gas prices and bad credit return, it’s safe to assume that most crossovers—and even a few big SUVs—can weather the storm.
Fact: It worked for FCA.
Sergio Marchionne made similarly questionable, bold moves back in 2016 when he killed off production of the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200 to focus on Jeep SUVs and crossovers and the RAM pickup line. The company’s shares climbed to a record high and last month the automaker reported a 10% increase over the previous year.
Opinion: The Ford Fusion lacked Focus.
The Fusion has received above-average marks since its debut in 2006. But despite praise for its styling and comfort, friendly tech and dynamic performance, a common thread keeps unraveling. With six possible engines and five trim levels (all with more sub-options), the Ford Fusion feels like a sedan for Ford customers, not a Ford for sedan customers. Car and Driver’s 2006 review stated “But aside from its looks, the Fusion offers no standout qualities that will bring Camry and Accord drivers into Ford showrooms.” And the publication’s 2018 review echoed that with, “There’s none of the focused excellence that we enjoy from competitors such as the Honda Accord, the Chevrolet Volt, and the Mazda 6. Many buyers will be happy with this Renaissance car, but we can’t help but think that they might be happier in something else.”
MotorTrend isn’t afraid to drive home this sentiment as well, with a bang of the Gavel of Harsh Truths. In response to Ford’s move, one article states very clearly: “It’s not that sedans are dead. Sedans that are poorly executed are dead.” It goes on to report that “8 of the top 20 best-selling vehicles in America remain sedans—the same representation percentage as crossovers and SUVs.” Clearly, there’s still money to be made in the segment. In fact, GM is staying true to sedans, with plans to update the Spark, Cruze, and Malibu models for 2019.
Time Will Tell
So, is Ford just cutting its losses here and blaming it on the death of the sedan? Taking a play from FCA’s book, waving good-bye to the sedan, and adopting a more short-sighted vision of the future? Maybe. It’s not like killing the Ford Fusion means the automaker signed an official death certificate—the current revival of old models is proof of that. Does this mean the death of the sedan? Eh, we’re not so sure. It feels more like the platform got friend-zoned by America, while the country wanders around in crossover love-daze. The market is definitely shrinking—but it’s still there. And it’s safe to assume it will still have a place in the future timeline of the American automobile. As for the Fusion, we understand getting out of the game while you’re still on top. Besides, everybody loves a good comeback.
Looking for more? Don’t worry, because we’re not done. Rumors are floating that Ford might keep the Fusion name for a Subaru-competing wagon. And you best believe we have thoughts on that…