By Timothy Cain on December 2, 2011
Black Friday shopping isn't just relegated to hot new gadgets and deep discounts. Last month, car buyers snapped up nostalgic nameplates like they were going out of style. But while the names were familiar, the oldies that sold best had shiny new wrappers.
America's longtime best-selling car, the Toyota Camry, was recently revamped for 2012. Sales jumped 13% last month thanks to the new design, and the Camry beat Honda's staler Accord by more than 9,000 units. The Camry reigned supreme as America's best-selling car with a 2,827-unit lead over the Nissan Altima.
America's fourth- and fifth-best-selling SUVs in November were two much-improved versions of formerly past-their-prime nameplates. Year-over-year, Ford Explorer sales jumped 217% to 12,888. Compared with October, Explorer sales climbed 7.5% in a market that shrank 2.6%.November sales of the Jeep Grand Cherokee rose 23% to 13,545, not enough to take over from the Explorer on year-to-date terms — the Explorer leads by about 11,000 — but enough to make the Grand Cherokee more popular than all but eight passenger cars.
Why are we talking about these two if they're not the most popular SUVs? Because there is roughly a $5,000 difference in starting prices between them and the small SUVs that are selling more units.
Few cars or SUVs are more nostalgic or have received a more publicized — does it get bigger than Oprah? — redesign than the Volkswagen Beetle. Sales of the Beetle jumped 240% to a seemingly low 1,656 units. Relatively speaking, however, the Beetle did well, fending off its significantly less-expensive retro rival, the Fiat 500, with a slim 38-unit victory. Beetle sales rose steadily from September's 723 to October's 1,516 and last month's 1,656.
The shine of new cars doesn't last long. The well-reviewed Ford Focus that was significantly redesigned last year had a rough November with sales down 10% from last year at 11,735 units. One would have guessed that the first all-new Focus in eons would be a greater hit, but it fell behind not only new designs in the Hyundai Elantra, Honda Civic and Chevy Cruze but also the barely retouched Toyota Corolla.
The still-fresh BMW 5 Series — which tops its segment in terms of driving dynamics — was off November 2010's pace by 29% at 3,564 units. The Mercedes-Benz E-Class — which includes sedan, coupe and convertible models — was up 2.2% at 5,095 units. An all-new Audi A6 was up 69.8%, but with sales at 1,379 units, Audi is still trying to chip away at BMW and Mercedes' dominance in the segment.
As for cars that could almost fit under the Christmas tree, sales were strong. The all-new Kia Rio subcompact saw sales up 123% in November, but the smallest Kia trailed competition that included the Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Nissan Versa and Toyota Yaris.
Small is definitely big it seems for holiday shoppers, but new is the bigger deciding factor.
Shiny new styles weren't the only winners. In 2004 the Chevrolet Tahoe was America's third-best-selling SUV. The Tahoe didn't gain enough ground to crack the top 10 in November, but sales shot up 33% to a fairly astonishing 8,401. That made November the Tahoe's second-best month this year. More importantly, despite Chevrolet's best intentions to provide the public with a more carlike alternative, the Tahoe outsold the Traverse by 1,257 units last month. Traverse sales slid 28%.
Although not new or recently reengineered in any meaningful way, the Tahoe is an old favorite, just the kind of vehicle America's car-buying public was interested in over the pre-holiday holiday season. Like the country's six best-selling pickups, all of which reported significant gains last month, the Tahoe can haul an awful lot of toys. Just in case you're at the front of the line when Rubik's Cubes are back en vogue.
Tim Cain is a contributing writer for Cars.com and the editor-in-chief of Good Car Bad Car, a site that analyzes both U.S. and Canadian car sales.