The Redesign Index

It can cost up to $1 billion or more to develop a new or redesigned car, so sales success — and not just a little bit of it — matters. Determining which of those new cars hit the mark with consumers is no easy task. In the past three model years, significant redesigns averaged a 33% increase in year-over-year sales in the months after they were launched compared with their predecessors in the same period a year earlier. With numbers like that, most automakers could claim success with a redesign. But some cars rose above that lofty mark while others fell below. Which were the redesigns that car shoppers lined up for? crunched sales figures for 61 redesigns or introductions that replaced outgoing cars over the past four model years. We set a sales floor and grouped cars into three sales tiers — after all, a bit player can easily double its sales with a sharp redesign, but market saturation makes it harder for a popular model to do the same. We compared six months of sales after dealers ramped up inventory with the same time period from the year before. Finally, we also accounted for the growth in the overall auto market, meaning that if the whole market went up 10%, we assume that tide would have carried these redesigns as well.

Among the cars that were redesigned for 2012, we established three categories. Adjusted for market growth, Winners outsold the four-year average for redesigns in their sales class. Underperformers fell below that average but outperformed the prior year's sales. Losers are redesigns that sold worse than the previous version did the year before.

The redesigned Honda CR-V and Toyota Camry scored big among top-selling models with their 2012 redesigns; the Camry was helped along by a hybrid variant with EPA combined city/highway ratings as high as 41 mpg, and the CR-V won the Today $25,000 Compact SUV Shootout. Neither car, though, soared as high as popular redesigns from years past:

At the other end of the spectrum, Japan's 2011 earthquake and tsunami hamstrung inventory for the redesigned Honda Civic, as did lukewarm reviews of the redesigned compact.

Between the two groups were a slew of underperformers. Ford's redesigned Focus ran into its own inventory problems, hampering sales out of the gate; Hyundai and GM raised prices for their redesigned subcompacts — the Hyundai Accent and Chevrolet Sonic — whose predecessors were among the least-expensive cars in the U.S. Meanwhile, Toyota didn't rake in too many more shoppers with its redesigned Yaris subcompact, whose EPA highway mileage fell well short of its 40-mpg competitors. The Japan-built Yaris arrived in fall 2011 as Toyota continued to struggle with the effects of the earthquake and tsunami.

Other underperformers included the Mazda5 compact minivan, which was the only Mazda in the U.S. to wear the automaker's short-lived Nagare styling theme. On the luxury front, Audi split shoppers' attention between the redesigned A6 and a new coupelike A7. By the end of 2011, Audi sold one A7 for every two A6s and S6s. (Audi reports the A6-derived S6 under A6 sales, but the S6 is a bit player.)

About the Redesign Index
The Redesign Index looks at redesigned cars from the past four model years — in this case 2009 to 2012. We analyze sales for six months after the ramp-up period to allow sufficient time for the automaker to build inventory on dealer lots. The index compares sales for a redesign against those of its predecessor — either the prior generation or a direct precursor (e.g., the Chevrolet Cruze vs. the Chevy Cobalt). We group redesigns by sales tiers. Sources for the Redesign Index also include Automotive News and automaker data.

Top 10 Best-Selling Cars: September 2012
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Senior Consumer Affairs Editor Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price.  Email Kelsey