Traverse City Record-Eagle

Business

April 2, 2013

Camry battles spruced-up rivals in midsize market

DETROIT (AP) — For nearly two decades, the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord have ruled the mid-sized car market.

Nobody accused them of being stylish or fast. But the cars rarely broke down, and they held their value better than competitors. For drivers who wanted a family car, Camry and Accord got the job done and were good enough to become two of the best-selling cars of all time.

But now the dominance is starting to slip. Cars like the Hyundai Sonata, Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima and Kia Optima have cut into sales of the Camry and Accord by offering combinations of sleeker designs, luxury-car features and better gas mileage.

The competition has shaken up the biggest segment of the U.S. auto market. The completely redesigned vehicles have made midsize cars appealing to a broader audience, from young families to downsizing baby boomers to people who want the look and feel of luxury but don't want the cost. Midsize cars accounted for almost 25 percent of the total industry in February, up from 22 percent at the end of 2007. Automakers report March sales on Tuesday.

Differences in quality and reliability in midsize cars have all but been erased, so buyers now look at styling and performance, industry analysts say. That puts added pressure on Toyota and Honda to stay ahead, but also on the other automakers, because brand loyalty isn't what it used to be. Every time a new, sleeker car comes out, many buyers flock to it. As a result, automakers are redesigning midsize cars in about half the usual time.

"Your latest and greatest are the ones that are selling the most," said Glenn Mears, owner of Chrysler, Ford, Honda and Nissan dealerships in the Dover, Ohio, area south of Cleveland.

Sales figures show how tough the competition has gotten for Camry and Accord, still the two top-selling cars in the U.S.

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