Are Electric Vehicles Causing the Demise of Sedans?
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Sedan sales are plummeting, and it’s having a massive effect on the American auto industry. In fact, while international automakers, such as Honda, Hyundai, and Volkswagen continue to produce sedans, a mere five U.S. automakers came out with a new sedan model in 2021.
Why is the auto landscape changing so drastically? Some experts believe it’s strictly due to changing consumer demands, while others suggest that the burgeoning popularity of electric vehicles (EVs) is to blame.
The death of sedans is ultimately caused by consumers, who are moving from sedans to light trucks, a category of vehicle that includes pickups, minivans, and SUVs. Over the past three years, this shift has been especially marked: at the end of 2017, 69% of U.S. vehicle sales were light trucks, and 31% were cars (mostly sedans, with some coupes thrown in). By the end of 2020, these numbers had become significantly more extreme, at 79% and 21% respectively.
Sedan sales are plummeting, and auto industry experts can’t agree on why—though some think that increases in electric vehicle sales may be to blame.
Sedan situation grows dire
Most shocking is not the drop in sedan sales, but rather its scale. “You can count on one hand the number of 2021 model year domestic brand sedans available now for purchase in the U.S.,” reports Hot Cars.
One of the few automakers still manufacturing new sedans, General Motors, offers only three 2021 models—which is the most of any American automaker. According to Bloomberg, cars (a category composed largely of sedans) accounted for only 8% of the company’s sales in 2020—and this from the top sedan producer in the country.
The list of discontinued sedans continues to grow each year, with the Mazda 6, the Volkswagen Passat, and the Toyota Avalon soon to join the ranks. Automakers like Ford, Chrysler, and Lincoln have long since given up on sedan production altogether, a trend that is likely to only become more popular.
Experts divided on reason for sedan’s demise
One clear reason for the death of domestic sedan production is American consumers’ widespread preference for sport vehicles and trucks. Various experts have weighed why they think sedans are disappearing from the market, though not all are in agreement.
Many in the industry believe that the death of the sedan was just a matter of time, and that it is simply the natural response to declining consumer demand. According to ABC News, Joe Wiesenfelder, executive editor at Cars.com, said, “Sports cars and sedans were already on the edge of the cliff.” He added, “When automakers put their attention elsewhere, something is going to lose, and it’s usually the products that were already endangered.”
Wiesenfelder clarifies that by moving away from sedans, U.S. automakers are “abandoning a shape—not a need.” He is referring to the recent reclassification of mid-size cars as subcompact SUVs, further narrowing the category of “sedan.”
Roy Carroll, editor-in-chief of Jalopnik, echoed Wiesenfelder’s sentiments. “If you’re going to invest in something you won’t take money away from products that are selling,” he said to ABC News. “Sports cars and sedans—those are not selling right now.”
Electric vehicles may be to blame
Another reason for the demise of sedans? Electric vehicles, according to some experts.
Stephanie Brinley, an IHS Markit analyst, argues that the recent spike in EV sales has spelled out the end of the sedan. “Sedans and sports cars will continue to fall away for a bit longer,” she wrote. “It’s sad to me that these types are both being squeezed by the need to invest in EVs and electrification.”
Brinley went on: “If we weren’t struggling with the costs of transition, some sedans may be able to survive even at lower volumes,” she said, citing automakers’ need to allocate capital toward expensive EV production. Wiesenfelder agreed with her, adding, “EVs may be responsible for giving [sedans] the final shove.”
American auto consumers are slowly but surely going electric. IHS Markit forecasts that battery-electric vehicles will account for 32% of U.S light vehicle sales by 2030.
That being said, while some experts express belief that automakers should continue to invest in EVs, others remain skeptical. Wiesenfelder argues that “abandoning future product plans for anything but EVs” would be a “gamble,” whereas Brinley is confident that the popularity of EVs will wane. “For a lot of consumers, EVs are still a bit of a mystery,” she said. “It will be a very long transition despite the hype.”