While we’re not quite back at the pre-recession high of 17 million vehicles sold in the U.S. in a single year, 2012′s 15.3 million wasn’t too shabby after 2011′s 14.49 million. Those both blow the recession low of just under 11 million new vehicles sold out of the water. It’s safe to say that Americans aren’t so worried that they feel the need to hoard their cash anymore. That’s a good thing.
Sales raced forward in 2012, with plenty of stalwarts retaining their sales crowns and a few new faces shining through the cracks. Below is a list of the best-selling vehicles of 2012 by segment.
Subcompact Car: Nissan Versa — 113,327 Units
If you’re saying to yourself, “Hey, there are better cars in the subcompact class than the Versa,” you’re probably right. There are. But few of them offer the space and efficiency of the little 40-mpg compact sedan and five-door hatchback. Fewer still can do it for a starting price of of under $13,000, including destination and handling. That’s with a warranty, too. Some may argue that the Hyundai Accent-based Kia Soul’s 115,778 units sold in 2012 narrowly beats out the Versa, but there are those who also wonder if the Soul is a subcompact or a crossover. Nevertheless, expect a new Versa hatchback this year, which should help elevate sales even further.
Compact Car: Honda Civic — 317,909 Units
There are those outside the automotive press who would tell us to eat our words. With the redesign of the Honda Civic for 2012, Honda cheapened the interior and dulled its driving dynamics. Yet, it kept on selling. For 2013, the car received substantial upgrades, bringing it up to a level of quality more befitting of the Civic. Were auto critics off-base with the Civic, calling the 2012 model rubbish when it wasn’t? No. The car was a downgrade, and the constant criticisms helped make Honda aware of that fact. Why it managed to outsell every one of its competitors comes down to two factors: 1) Despite the downgrades, the 2012 Civic was still a proven, reliable product and a decent value and 2) to make way for the 2013 model, Honda was practically giving away the car. The Toyota Corolla led the sales race through much of the year, but it couldn’t hold on with outrageously affordable Honda finance deals afoot.
Midsize Car: Toyota Camry — 404,886
Call the Camry boring, but it’s a very well-known quantity: Quiet, reliable, comfortable, and a good value for the money. When we drove one just a few months ago, we found one of the best aspects of the car to be its familiarity. You could get in and drive it without ever having driven it before and know where everything is and what it does. Despite newer, more sophisticated cars in its class, the Toyota Camry holds on to its title by a significant margin because it’s for people who just want a car to get them where they want without ever having to worry if it’ll start in the morning. Touchscreens are few and far between. Toyota’s Entune infotainment system is a lot simpler than Ford’s MyFord Touch or HondaLink. The Camry is a no-brainer in both its mission and in its application.
Minivan: Dodge Grand Caravan — 141,468 Units
Chrysler invented the minivan segment in 1984 in the U.S. and has held a tight grip onto it since. Think about this: The second-best-selling Honda Odyssey moved 125,980 units in 2012, which is dangerously close to dethroning the Dodge Grand Caravan. But when combined to with the Chrysler Town & Country’s 111,744 units, Chrysler’s minivans more than double its Japanese rival. That comes in no small part because of Chrysler’s reliance on selling minivans to rental agencies and government fleets, but Honda sells vehicles to fleets, too. Chrysler is thinking about dropping one of its minivans for a seven-passenger crossover; we think that’s a terrible idea. While both minivans are mechanically identical, they serve very different markets in the minivan segment.
Pickup Truck: Ford F-Series — 645,316 Units
Pickup truck sales are a down-and-dirty game, and Ford takes it into the trenches with the F-Series pickup trucks. While medium-duty and Super Duty Ford trucks are wholly separate models, Ford lumps them into one pot for the sake of the sales race. Even when combined, the mechanically identical Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra don’t quite match the sales numbers of the F-Series pickup truck, which has been the best-selling line of full-size trucks since the first Reagan Administration, at least. General Motors has already shown off heavily revised trucks ahead of this month’s Detroit Auto Show, but word has it Ford will be showing a prototype of the 2015 F-150 at the show to extinguish some of its rivals’ hype.
Two-Row Crossover: Honda CR-V — 281,652 Units
The race in the compact crossover segment has been tight all year between the Honda CR-V and the Ford Escape, which includes the heavily discounted 2012 Ford Escape and all-new 2013 Escape. No other crossover even came close. But going into the final stretch, the Honda CR-V widened its lead, securing its first-place title in the segment. While not the most exciting vehicle out there, the CR-V possesses the virtues that make a Honda a Honda: excellent reliability, fuel economy nudging over 30 mpg, and ease of use. On the other hand, the Ford Escape wooed the market with its exciting styling and features, but it suffered more than its fair share of recalls already in its young life. This segment is set to become even more dynamic in 2013, as Mazda will be debuting a more powerful version of its CX-5 crossover, a new Toyota RAV4 just went on sale, and Nissan will be going to for heart of the segment with its next-generation Rogue.
Three-Row Crossover: Ford Explorer — 158,344 Units
We like Ford a lot. They make some great vehicles. This is not one of them. There’s a lot of brand equity in the Explorer name, and when it was resurrected back in 2011, Ford’s executives knew it. Moving to a car-based architecture instead of its former truck-based roots it shared in part with the Ford Ranger compact pickup truck, the Explorer became bigger and more fuel-efficient while still retaining its rugged looks. It also became a ponderous-to-drive vehicle with an interior whose dimensions on-paper didn’t quite match its actual space. In 2012, the Explorer jumped well ahead of the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander with which it competes, but replacements for those are in the near-term works. And the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder is a solid contender, too. We imagine this sales race will be much tighter in 2013 and 2014.
Luxury Sedan: BMW 3 Series — 99,602 Units
At times in Southern California, it seems that the BMW 3 Series is more popular than the Toyota Camry. As the official car of yuppies, the BMW 3 Series promises a sporty driving character, luxury amenities, and a lease rate that’s not much more than a loaded-up midsize sedan. In the coming year, we expect the 3 Series to lose its crown to the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, but BMW won’t suffer. Included in the nearly 100,000 3 Series are sedans, coupes, and convertibles. Coming up, the coupe and convertible will be called the 4 Series, further distancing itself from the sedan in style, and likely price. Mercedes is going to keep its nomenclature right where it’s at, at least for now. We’ll see if BMW’s new number jumbler will have any real effects on consumer awareness in the upcoming model year when the 4 Series goes on sale alongside the 3.
Luxury Crossover: Lexus RX — 75,780 Units
There’s not much to fault with this one. It’s no sports car, but its 3.5-liter V-6 engine makes it genuinely quick. When you’re driving it, it’s hard not to get the feeling that you’re wafting down the road. Everything feels high-quality and upscale. It’s perfectly inoffensive luxury and doesn’t ever sacrifice comfort for the sake of some sort of sports sedan on stilts persona–even in F Sport trim. Okay, maybe we found one fault with it: It’s sports package isn’t all that sporty; it’s a Lexus. If you want to go 130 mph in your crossover or carve up the Nurburgring, go look at something a little more German or a little more SRT for the money.
Sports Car/Convertible: Chevrolet Camaro — 84,391 Units
The Chevrolet Camaro edged out the Ford Mustang by just under 1,400 units in 2012, leading us to believe that the pony car war is alive and well. No other sports cars came even close. The Ford Mustang is growing long in the tooth and in need of a replacement; Chevrolet keeps on bringing out newer and more aggressive versions of its Camaro to appease its fanbase. In 2012, the Camaro 1LE debuted as a track pack for the SS car. It joined the 323-horsepower base V-6 model, 426-horsepower Camaro SS V-8, and the superchaged, 550-horsepower Camaro ZL1. Next year, it looks like Chevrolet will be dropping its 7.0-liter V-8 from the current Corvette into the Camaro as a sendoff before the redesigned Camaro bows as a 2015 model. The success of the Camaro has cannibalized Corvette sales, but we imagine that’ll just allow the Corvette to move up and join the ranks of the supercar elite with a nicer interior and higher price in the car that is set to be unveiled in less than two weeks.
By Jacob Brown