Having sniffed the exhaust pipes of the French and German marques within Europe’s D-segment, we make one last visit to wave a fond adieu to our friends from Japan.
A facelifted Toyota Avensis bowed in at Geneva, featuring front-end styling eerily familiar to current Auris and Corolla owners. It probably represents the last opportunity to purchase one of these while they’re still warm because Toyota has broadly hinted that they may not replace the model once it breathes its last in a couple of year’s time. The reason? Only 28,972 were sold last year, 16% less than they managed in 2013. We recently touched upon Honda’s decision to pull out of the European D-segment, and similar logic holds true for Toyota. Honda sold a paltry 3,499 Accords last year – a drop of 22% on 2013. The cost of producing Euro-centric models for a shrinking market no longer stacks up for Toyota and especially for Honda, so there it is. It’s not them, it’s us.
Mazda by contrast is in a stronger position, aided by their strongest lineup in years. Mazda sold 31,032 of the D-sector 6 model last year, down 5% on the previous year, but a strong performance by mainstream Japanese standards nonetheless. Sixth place in the segment is no small beans, given who they’re up against. The numbers for Mazda are further bolstered by the fact that the 6 is also sold in the United States, Australia and the Far-East, so the economies of scale work very much in Mazda’s favour. The fact that it’s a something of a looker can’t hurt either.
Subaru also lost volume in 2014, with a fall of 17% over the previous year for the Legacy and Outback model. Sales of 6415 are pretty miserable, but at twice that of Honda, it could be worse. Like Mazda however, US sales make up for the European shortfall, where Subaru continue to do good business, mopping up all those distraught Saab owners. Suzuki meanwhile have ceased production of the Kizashi – a model which has proven an abject flop for them, both in Europe and the United States. Its demise removes them from the sector completely and frankly, it’s unlikely they’ll try again.
So as the Japanese prepare to pack up and leave the D-sector completely, Korean marques Kia and Hyundai keep making solid inroads in all major European markets. Despite this, their performance in this segment is not exactly stellar, despite competitive offerings. With sales last year 25,016, the Hyundai i40 was a respectable performer, but no more than that. This figure represents a drop of 17% on the previous year, but with a facelift due in 2015, this may be temporary. More mystifying still is Kia’s pathetic performance, selling a paltry 3,409 Optimas – less even than Honda managed. How is this possible? The Kia is a handsome design, is mechanically identical to its Hyundai sibling and is priced similarly. Is it a perception issue, a lack of dealership representation or a problem of supply? That it’s only available in three colours? Answers on a postcard please.
Why have the Japanese marques failed, when they do such good business elsewhere? By focusing predominantly on the US, have they reacted too slowly to changing buyer patterns in Europe? Producing reliable, durable product is clearly not enough any more – not if it fails to appeal to buyers who are becoming more discerning and brand-oriented. As they move further upmarket, the flight of the Japanese marques poses a stark lesson for Hyundai/Kia – one they ignore at their peril.
Data sources: Left-Lane.com via ANDC/JATODynamics