By AnnaMaria Andriotis
Americans are driving fewer new cars off the dealership lot, but sales for some vehicles are still stomping on the accelerator.
Overall, nobody’s dancing in the streets of Detroit. Car sales fell in July to slightly more than 1.1 million, down 11% from June, according to Edmunds.com, and Ford and General Motors reported sales declines of 4% and 6%, respectively, from a year prior. Total car sales expected for the year have dropped to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of roughly 14.1 million, from 15.1 million in February.
Still, sales remain up from a year prior—they’re up 8% year over year—in large part due to consumer demand for a few popular car categories. Sales of midsize cars totaled 203,147 in July, up 18% from a year ago, according to Edmunds.com. And sales of crossovers SUVs, which are smaller than regular SUVs, rose 6% to 203,125.
What’s driving consumer fervor for these particular models? Car analysts say some of the best sellers are finding the sweet spot between roominess and fuel-efficiency. Midsize sedans have been gradually improving their miles-per-gallon numbers without sacrificing comfort and cupholders, while crossovers practically sip fuel compared to their full-size SUV brethren. Across the board, all crossover SUVs make up nearly 20% of sales, with midsize cars at close to the same level. Kristen Andersson, senior analyst at TrueCar.com, says the crossover trend in particular is driven by consumers with large families.
(It also appears that space still trumps high gas mileage for most buyers: Despite high gas prices, ultra-efficient subcompact cars accounted for just 5% of sales in July, according to Edmunds.com.)
Incentives could also be influencing buyer decisions. Smaller, more fuel-efficient cars are less likely to offer cash back, 0% rates on car financing or other deals to buyers. (The exception is if a redesign of specific model is scheduled to be released soon, says Ivan Drury, senior analyst at Edmunds.com.) In contrast, incentives recently averaged $2,158 for small and midsize SUVs and $3,754 for large trucks, according to the latest data from TrueCar.com.
Here are the three car categories that sold at least 100,000 cars in July whose sales numbers continued to grow despite the broader slump. (All quoted sticker prices are for base models.)