Is the Crossover Really King? Sales Figures Say Otherwise

ford edge vs ford fusion
Ford Edge vs. Ford Fusion

Crossovers are everywhere. Small to big, basic to luxury, every car company has a stable of tall, car-based five-door hatchbacks masquerading as SUVs available to the car buying public.

Many see the rise of the crossover as the death knell for the sedan, but is that really the case? Let’s examine some sales numbers for the top-selling crossovers in the midsize, compact and subcompact category and compare them to the cars upon which they’re based.

Midsize Crossovers vs. Midsize Cars

Platform sharing is the de facto paradigm for automobile manufacturing, and in the case of the midsize crossover, it means the platforms are shared with midsize sedans. As expected, the fight isn’t even close, as midsize sedans are one of the hottest selling vehicle types.

The top five selling midsize crossovers are outsold at more than a two-to-one ratio by their sedan counterparts. The exception is the Kia Sorento, which is still outsold by the Optima, but only by about 1,500.

Toyota Camry and Honda Accord are two of the best selling vehicles in the country, period, and in both cases the ratio of sedan to crossover sales is closer to three-to-one.

Crossover Feb. ’16 YTD ’16 Feb. ’16 YTD ’16 Car
Toyota Highlander 12,466 23,724 32,405 59,253 Toyota Camry
Ford Edge 12,455 21,988 25,442 45,319 Ford Fusion
Honda Pilot 9,572 18,133 25,785 46,550 Honda Accord
Chevrolet Traverse 9,158 16,172 21,418 36,164 Chevrolet Malibu
Kia Sorento 8,101 14,796 9,630 18,043 Kia Optima


Compact Crossovers vs. Compact Cars

In the compact crossover segment, the numbers tell a different story. Toyota and Honda rule both the compact car and crossover segments, and in both segments the car outsold the crossover. However, the spread is a lot closer than the midsize race, with the Corolla outselling the RAV4 by about 4,000 sales and the Civic outselling the CR-V by about 2,000 sales.

Further down the list, the crossovers start to take the lead, although the numbers are close. Only the top five sellers among compact crossovers are listed in the chart, but for others in the segment the numbers remain close for those companies that have both a crossover and a car in their lineups.

Notable exceptions include Hyundai, where the Elantra outsells the Tucson two to one, and Subaru, where the Forester outsells the Impreza by nearly three to one.

Crossover Feb. ’16 YTD ’16 Feb. ’16 YTD ’16 Car
Toyota RAV4 25,523 47,077 29,342 51,704 Toyota Corolla
Honda CR-V 25,250 44,458 27,707 54,448 Honda Civic
Ford Escape 23,854 43,073 18,620 31,579 Ford Focus
Nissan Rogue 21,561 41,323 20,599 36,743 Nissan Sentra
Chevrolet Equinox 19,825 38,399 12,998 27,360 Chevrolet Cruze*

*NOTE: The Chevrolet Equinox is based on a different platform than the Cruze, but the next generation Equinox will share the new Cruze’s platform.

Subcompact Crossovers vs. Subcompact Cars

This segment is a tougher one to compare, as it’s the newest and there are many on the list that don’t have comparable sister cars, or aren’t based on subcompact cars at all.

The Jeep Renegade, Buick Encore and Mazda CX-3 don’t have sister cars in their respective brand’s lineups. The Renegade is related to the Fiat 500L, the Encore (like the Chevrolet Trax) is related to the Chevrolet Sonic, and the Mazda CX-3 is related to the Scion iA. However, since those cars are sold under different brands with different dealer networks, it would be unfair to compare them.

honda hr-v vs honda fit
Honda HR-V vs. Honda Fit

Two crossovers on the sales chart, the Subaru XV Crosstrek and the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, are actually based on compact car platforms (the Impreza and Lancer, respectively).

While that doesn’t leave too many crossovers left to compare, there is a pattern. For the two on the list that are the most mainstream – the Honda HR-V and Chevrolet Trax – they both outsell their established subcompact car counterparts, albeit by only a few hundred.

The Fiat 500X handily outsells the woeful 500L, but that shows how bad the 500L is as much as it shows how good the 500X is. The Nissan Juke is a niche model, and despite its credible performance, because of its polarizing styling and profound lack of interior space it will never sell as well as the Versa. If Nissan would build a more mainstream crossover based on the same platform, it might be a success.

Crossover Feb. ’16 YTD ’16 Feb. ’16 YTD ’16 Car
Honda HR-V 4,940 9,117 3,647 6,742 Honda Fit
Chevrolet Trax 4,814 8,560 4,241 7,919 Chevrolet Sonic
Nissan Juke 1,863 3,373 12,249 20,255 Nissan Versa
Fiat 500X 1,547 2,565 365 735 Fiat 500L


The Takeaway

So what do these numbers mean? Well for one thing, the sedan isn’t dead yet, not by a long shot. Sales are strong enough across the board that the sedan is still a viable, profitable platform and will continue to be for a long time.

Breaking down the numbers, though, reveals an interesting trend. In the midsize segment, the sedans clearly outsell the crossovers by a wide margin, but as the cars get smaller, the crossovers start to take over.

It could be that size matters. A midsize sedan is still large enough to handle a typical American family. The crossovers have taken the market that would traditionally belong to the station wagon variant of the sedan.

Compact cars, though, are a lot smaller and may not fit the needs of many buyers. In this case, the larger crossovers make sense. Since they are usually more expensive than their compact car siblings, they compete in the same dollar range as the midsize sedan and probably pilfer sales from that segment as well.

A similar argument can be made for subcompact crossovers. Making a crossover out of a subcompact car makes the subcompact more palatable for the American market, where bigger is always better.

What do you think of the fight between the crossover and the sedan? Start the conversation in the comments below.

Check out this wintery TFLcar mashup video of the 2016 Honda CR-V, the 2016 Subaru Forester and the 2016 Mazda CX-5: