Japanese Growing CUV Dominance in U.S.

In calendar 2012, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler accounted for 11 of the top 15 best-selling light trucks in the U.S. Through 2017’s first three quarters, the Detroit brands occupied nine of the top 15 slots.

October 16, 2017

4 Min Read
Middle CUVs by Japanese brands are handily outstripping sales of Detroit Three models this year
Middle CUVs by Japanese brands are handily outstripping sales of Detroit Three models this year.

Much as they did in the car sector, Japanese auto brands increasingly are taking a bigger piece of the pie in the light-truck group.

And as happened with midsize and compact sedans in the late 1990s, it is the Detroit Three that are losing ground, largely on the midsize-CUV front, WardsAuto data shows.

In calendar 2012, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler accounted for 11 of the top 15 best-selling light trucks in the U.S. and four were Japanese. Through 2017’s first three quarters, the Detroit Three occupied nine of the top 15 slots while the Japanese held six.

The Detroit Three remain firmly atop the list through September, with the fullsize-pickup triumvirate of the Ford F-Series, Chevy Silverado and Ram (with 612,312, 418,590 and 362,158 units sold, respectively) in their longtime spots of first, second and third place.

But the Japanese automakers’ growing dominance of the midsize CUV segment has altered the makeup of fourth through sixth place over the past five years.

Whereas the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Chevy Equinox held spots four through six at the end of 2012, at the end of last year it was the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Nissan Rogue in those slots.

Through September, the CR-V was down to sixth place and the RAV4 and Rogue were the No.4 and No.5 best-selling light trucks in the U.S.

One of the key reasons for the shift looks to be sharply higher North American output by the Japanese automakers – specifically Toyota and Nissan – of their midsize CUVs, supplementing Japanese builds of the same models.

In 2012, Toyota built 178,360 RAV4s at its Woodstock, ON, Canada, plant. In 2016, 250,345 copies were built there, WardsAuto data shows.

Toyota went from selling 171,877 RAV4s in 2012, when it was the seventh-best-selling light truck in the U.S., to 267,698 in 2014 (putting it in sixth place) and to 352,139 in 2016 (fifth place). Through September of this year, RAV4 deliveries stood at 312,230, making it the No.4-selling light truck in the U.S.

Toyota expects to achieve a longstanding goal to sell 400,000 RAV4s in the U.S. in 2017, given the vehicle’s pace of sales in the first three quarters. RAV4 deliveries rose 19.9% through September vs. like-2016.

Rogue sales more than doubled from 2012 to 2016, as Nissan expanded production as well as included the prior-generation Rogue, sold as the Rogue Select (now defunct), in the CUV’s lineup.

Through September, Rogue sales were up 22.9% from year-ago. Nissan this year introduced a smaller Rogue to the lineup, the Rogue Sport, for which it doesn’t break out sales figures.

Meanwhile, Equinox and Escape volumes have been relatively static the past five years.

Ford sold 261,088 Escapes in 2012, about 306,000 in 2014 and 2015 and 307,069 in 2016. Escape builds fell 9.7% last year at Ford’s Louisville, KY, assembly plant.

Equinox volumes also haven’t grown much, from 218,621 in 2012 to 242,242 in 2014 and 242,195 last year.

Through this year’s first three quarters, Equinox sales, driven by selling down the prior generation and arrival of the new ’18 model, were up 22.4% to 212,735 vs. the first three quarters of 2016.

However, that volume placed it eighth in the top-15 light-truck sales list. If the strike at the Equinox’s assembly plant in Ingersoll, ON, Canada, persists, it could drop the CUV even farther down the list at year-end.

Another factor in the changing makeup of the top-15 list has been the slowdown in Jeep deliveries in recent years.

Cherokee midsize CUV volume dropped last year to 199,736 (12th place) from 220,260 in 2015 (11th place). Through September the model has fallen off the top 15 list, allowing Subaru’s Outback to gain entry at No.15.

And while Jeep Wrangler sales grew from 141,669 in 2012 to 175,328 in 2014 to 202,702 in 2015, last year its sales declined to 191,774, moving it down to 13th place on the top-15 list from 12th place the year prior.

The Grand Cherokee has bucked the trend, with sales rising from 2012. Through September, deliveries of the SUV were up 17.7%, placing it in the No.10 spot.

As a whole, Jeep sales were down 12.0% in the year’s first three quarters, to 622,242 from 707,106 year-ago.

Look for the pressure on Detroit Three light trucks to continue, as the Asian brands add CUV models and ramp up production of existing nameplates.

Toyota this year announced yet another increase in Highlander midsize-CUV output at its Princeton, IN, plant, slated to commence in 2019.

The model broke into the top 15 last year and through the third quarter Highlander sales were up 24.5% to 158,196, good for 11th place.

Subaru also has been producing more CUVs to meet growing U.S. demand while expressing a desire to do so cautiously so as not to bulge inventories.

Subaru’s midsize Forester CUV rests just outside the top 15, with 132,030 sold through September, up 1.1% from like-2016.

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