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The Toyota Camry, Mazda6 and Hyundai Sonata are headed for the end of the road: Why mid-size sedans are dying - and how to save them

The mid-size sedan market continues to decline.

Cars like the Toyota Camry, Mazda6 and Hyundai Sonata are on borrowed time. And you can blame Sir Issac Newton for it.

As the great physicist proved, for every action, there’s an equal or opposite reaction, and as SUV sales have risen, so sales of passenger cars have declined.

Ok, so it actually has more to do with changing consumer habits rather than physics. But the fact remains, the likes of the Camry, 6, Sonata and other mid-size sedans face a very uncertain future.

So far in the first five months of 2022 Australians have bought 6292 sub-$60,000 medium-sized cars, according to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries’ sales data. That puts us on track to buy approximately 15,096 across the full calendar year.

Contrast that to a decade ago when we snapped up more than 68,000 medium-sized cars in 2012, up more than 18 per cent on 2011 sales. And this was despite similar-sized SUVs enjoying greater than 20 per cent growth and comfortably outselling sedans, proving there was a sizeable market for both.

However, in the past decade sales have declined and so has choice. In 2012 there were 25 models listed in the sub-$60,000 medium sedan segment in the sales figures. Fast forward to 2022 and there are only 10, but crucially, of those 10, three are already discontinued and remain on the sales charts only because a handful remain in dealers.

That means there are really only six affordable mid-size sedans for Australians to choose from now - Toyota Camry, Skoda Octavia, Mazda6, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Volkswagen Passat and Peugeot 508.

Drill further into the numbers and you’ll see it’s very much the Toyota that is propping up the entire segment because the Camry accounts for approximately 70 per cent of total sales year-to-date.

Looking at last year’s overall sales data the Camry was also the only medium sedan in the top 100 selling vehicles in Australia, a competitive 22nd but on its own as no other model seemingly has mass appeal any more.

In recent years we’ve seen the once-strong Ford Mondeo and Subaru Liberty dropped locally. These get added to the list of former options that have also disappeared, which includes the Citroen C5, Holden Malibu, Honda Accord Euro, Nissan Altima, Hyundai i40, Kia Optima, Renault Latitude, Suzuki Kizashi and Volkswagen Jetta.

There have been reports overseas that Hyundai is likely to drop the Sonata after this current generation runs its course and Mazda has been non-committal about the long-term prospects of the 6.  That’s not a confirmation that they will disappear, but the signs aren’t positive.

It’s not a uniquely Australian problem either, with the former sedan stronghold - the USA - increasingly turning away from four-door models too. In 2021 there were only two sedans in the top 25 selling models in the US - the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord - as pick-ups and SUVs dominate that market just like they do here.

All of which only makes it harder for car companies to justify the investment in a next-generation model. Which only gets harder when you factor in the extra money car makers need to find to invest into electrification. Ultimately sacrifices will need to be made and the mid-size sedan market is likely to be an easy cut to make for many brands.

Ironically, there are some mid-size sedans that are in hot-demand, just not the ones you typically think about. The Tesla Model 3 is outselling the Camry in the first five months of 2022, with 4481 sold year-to-date in May.

It’s not just electric sedans that are more popular than the mainstream models, the entire luxury segment (those above $60,000) is doing well, with nearly 10,000 sales year-to-date putting it well ahead of the cheaper models. The likes of the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and CLA-Class outsell the rest of the affordable end of the market, with the exception of the Camry.

So if car makers like Toyota, Mazda and Hyundai want to remain in the mid-size market, perhaps the only answer is to go premium or electric, otherwise the days of affordable family sedans seems numbered eventually.