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Large Cars Live On, but Endure a Little Emotional Upheaval

9/26/2012
Full-size sedans and coupes, powered by muscular V-8 engines, were the automotive gold standard in the late '50s and early '60s. Owners had emotional connection with these cars that had cachet for the average American consumer. As one owner's son suggests, "It wasn't just my dad's car--it was his baby."

One of the most popular large cars in its day was the Impala, which debuted in 1958 and remained Chevrolet's best-selling model through the mid-'70s. In 1965, General Motors sold 1 million Impalas--setting a record. In the '80s, demand for the Impala declined. Brought back for the 2000 model year, the Impala still ranks as the top seller in the large car segment, based on J.D. Power research. In fact, the Impala is the only large car model among the 20 best-sellers in the U.S. market.

Midsize cars, led by the best-selling Toyota Camry, have supplanted large cars as the leading car segment sellers in the U.S. market. However, despite lower sales than in past decades, that emotional connection with the large car--such as the Impala--lasts. For instance, in a video titled, "My Dad's Car" on YouTube, a son goes on a mission to locate his dad's long-lost 1965 Impala SS Supersport to return it to him as a surprise gift. The story is preserved in a "Chevy True Story" video that has been shared by more than 1.6 million viewers in the past year.

Large Cars Attract with New Features, a Few Redesigns

Although there are fewer entries in the large car segment, the remaining models feature new technology and styling that may be attractive to consumers. Also, many of these models, which can seat five and six passengers, are offered in affordable price ranges--beginning at base prices in the $25,000 range. Many of these large car models, including the Impala, are fleet favorites as well.

Large cars account for close to the same percentage of sales (3.66%) in the United States as do midsize vans (3.87%). During the first 8 months of 2012, sales of large cars pretty much plateaued. Some 354,700 large cars were delivered in January through August--about 6,000 units ahead of last year's tally (349,700 unit sales) for the same time period. Large car deliveries have been declining for at least the past 4 years, according to J.D. Power research. Also, research from J.D. Power's Power Information Network(R) (PIN) indicates that large cars are remaining longer on dealer lots before being sold this year vs. the same period a year ago.

Currently, only eight models are available in the large car segment, since some of the most famous models--including the Ford Crown Victoria--have been discontinued as of this year. Also, the Mercury Grand Marquis, its former sibling, concluded retail sales in 2007.

A few redesigns may create a little extra interest or excitement. For instance, the first complete redesign for Impala since 2000 is ready to be introduced as a 2014 model. On the same platform as GM's Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac XTS, the new Impala will feature a new grille design quite different from other split-grille Chevrolet models.  A more fuel-efficient engine will power the car and includes many electronic driver alert and warning systems, as well as 10 air bags.

Stay tuned for a new Ford Taurus SHO this year as well, which has a new performance package, turbocharged 6-cylinder engine, and firmer suspension. Also for 2013, Taurus gets a fresher, sportier design, according to the automaker and media reviews, with a new grille, wheels and fenders. Also, stylish updates have been added to the Chrysler 300 and the Buick LaCrosse.

Best-Selling Large Sedans Also Include Quality, Appeal
While Chevy's Impala continues to be the top-volume large car model, the second-best-seller in the large family sedan category is the Dodge Charger. The Charger, which is built on the same Mercedes-Benz platform as the Chrysler 300, also ranked as the most appealing large car model in the J.D. Power and Associates 2012 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM Named after the historic muscle cars of the '60s, Charger is one of the few large car models that still offers a big V-8 optional engine, even though the standard powertrain includes a more fuel-efficient V-6.

The third-best-seller in the large car segment is the Ford Taurus, which ranked highest in the large car segment in the J.D. Power and Associates 2012 Initial Quality Study (IQS).SM Once the best-selling car in America, the Taurus was last redesigned for 2010, marking its fourth-generation change since first launched to critical acclaim in 1986.  Since it was launched, the Taurus has gone through several polarizing revisions and fell from car sales leadership. In 2006, Ford replaced the Taurus with the Fusion midsize sedan and added the Five Hundred large car in 2007. A year later, Ford brought back the Taurus badge for its large car entry in 2008.

The Chrysler 300 also delights new-vehicle owners at the segment level. The fourth-best-selling large car in the U.S. market ranked second in its segment, according to the 2012 APEAL Study. In addition, the 300 ranked third in the 2012 Initial Quality Study after the Ford Taurus and Toyota Avalon, another large car entry that was redesigned last year.

 
Large Conventional Car Model
2012 YTD Sales
2011 YTD Sales

Chevrolet Impala

124,920
124,300

Dodge Charger

 57,622
 47,359

Ford Taurus

 51.293
 43,233

Chrysler 300

 48,868
 18,931

Nissan Maxima

 40,403
 38,460
Toyota Avalon
 20,102
 18,531

Hyundai Azera

    5,102
   1,328

Ford Crown Victoria**

    3,010
 46,725

Chevrolet Caprice PPV*

    2,411
       358

Buick Lucerne**

       964
 16,905

Kia Amanti**

           0
           1

Mercury Grand Marquis**

           0
       248

*Chevrolet Caprice PPV is imported from Australia.
**Discontinued
Source: Power Information Network(R) (PIN) and strategic partner LMC Automotive.

Large sedans are more of a niche market these days. However, these spacious, family cars provide ample seating for at least five and lots of luggage room. Also, many of the models offer living room comfort for long road trips and short family excursions.

The nine brands that still offer models in this segment continue to add new technology, safety features, more fuel-efficient powertrains, and well-styled interiors, as well as more stylish exterior designs. If your vehicle requirements include comfort, space, and an affordable price, a large car may be good for your consideration set.

Note: All sales percentage changes are selling-day adjusted.

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