Long the preferred choice for consumers looking to strike the perfect balance between practicality and affordability, mid-size cars have fallen on tougher times as of late as new sales for the group have fallen by 11% over the first four months of the year – the most of any segment.

The primary driver behind the decline in deliveries: competition from other segments.

Today’s compact car is big enough to comfortably accommodate small families, has amenities comparable to its larger cousin, and comes with a price tag thousands of dollars less. The bigger problem for the segment has been the ravenous consumer appetite for more versatile crossover utility vehicles. According to WardsAuto.com data, sales for the middle crossover utility segment have grown by 14% year-to-date (YTD) and the group’s share of total new sales currently stands at 17.3%, which is 2 percentage points more than the lower mid-size car segment share of 15.4%. The roles were reversed through April 2013, with lower mid-size cars responsible for 17.8% of new sales and mid-size utilities 15.6%.

The falloff in mid-size car sales is especially notable given that many of the segment’s top nameplates – the Nissan Altima, Chevy Malibu, Ford Fusion and Honda Accord – were heavily revised for the 2013 model year (in the Malibu’s case, 2013 and 2014).

Slowing sales and extreme competition have prompted manufacturers to dramatically increase incentive spending for many models. Autodata shows that incentive spending for the mid-size car segment rose by 28% through April, which is a figure exceeded by just three other segments.


YTD spending on the Volkswagen Passat, Nissan Altima and Kia Optima is averaging $3,018 to $3,235 per unit (for annual increases of 42%-58%, in that order), well above the segment average of $2,800. Average incentive spending on the Toyota Camry, Chevy Malibu and Ford Fusion is right around the segment average, while spending on the Hyundai Sonata and Honda Accord is a few hundred dollars lower.

Given that days’ supply is well above the 60-day threshold considered optimum for the majority of these models and the smaller slice of pie they’re all vying for, it stands to reason that manufacturers will continue to dial up incentive spending over the next few months. In addition, May’s Memorial Day holiday and its proximity to the summer driving season make it one of the biggest promotional and top selling months of the year. 


From 2001–2013 for example, incentives increased by an average of nearly 3% in May compared to April, and since 2000, the month has been the second strongest for new vehicle sales, coming in just behind March and slightly ahead of August.


Reading the signs, what is traditionally a great month to buy new will be even more so for consumers this May. Consumers should not only find mid-size car deals especially advantageous, but the fact that many models are only a year or two into their lifecycle means that shoppers won’t have to sacrifice the latest in style, efficiency and technology for price.