Which car models are likely to get the ax over the next year or so?
Sometimes, when an automaker plans to discontinue a model, the company makes it obvious by announcing it -- or by dropping a strong hint: "We're closing the factory that makes it." But other times, it takes some analysis to figure out which of today's car models are fated to go the way of the Edsel and Oldsmobile.
Here are three models our car-minded Foolish specialists think will disappear in the next year or so.
The little car that couldn't
Daniel Miller (Chevrolet Sonic): One vehicle that could be on the chopping block sooner rather than later is General Motors' (NYSE:GM) Chevrolet Sonic. It's nothing against the Sonic itself, per se, but the fact is, demand for smaller vehicles is plummeting while both demand for larger vehicles and a push toward electrified vehicles are accelerating.
Sales of the Chevy Sonic were down nearly 15% in 2016, and it remains one of the brand's lowest-volume vehicles. Furthermore, 2016 was the vehicle's worst full year of sales, with only 55,255 vehicles sold; that's down from its 93,518 peak in 2014 and far below the mid-80,000s sold in 2012 and 2013, its first two full years on the market.
Not only that, but as automakers continue to push toward electrified lineups, it's worth noting that the Sonic is produced at the Orion Assembly plant that recently received a $160 million investment to produce the Chevrolet Bolt EV -- and one could assume that the plant could be the future production location of GM's next EV project.
The Sonic's segment is falling out of favor with the U.S. consumer, and thanks to President Donald Trump's tweet flurry, it's less likely that production will be salvaged with a move to Mexico. That means the Sonic is likely on the chopping block after only its first model, and its production capacity could be replaced by a forward-thinking electric vehicle to be produced alongside the Bolt.
The electric car that got left behind
One of the very clear trends taking place in the EV industry is a move toward long-range full-electric vehicles or plug-in hybrid drivetrains. According to InsideEVs, Tesla Motors' (NASDAQ:TSLA) Model S and Model X are No. 1 and No. 3 in the category in sales in the U.S., with GM's plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt taking the No. 2 spot.
Falling behind is the Nissan LEAF, which sold 14,006 units in 2016, down from 17,269 in 2015 and 30,200 in 2014. Put another way, EV sales were up 30% between 2014 and 2016, and Nissan LEAF sales fell 54% over the same time frame. What Nissan is offering is not what the market is buying.
Nissan knows it needs to increase range beyond the 107 miles the LEAF can currently travel on a charge. But industry reports have the unconfirmed base 2018 Nissan LEAF packing just 120 miles of range, and upgrades only pushing it to about 200 miles. With Tesla's vehicles already pushing a high-end range of over 300 miles, the LEAF is looking ancient. Add in the fact that the Chevy Bolt is in dealerships and has a 238-mile range, and that Tesla's Model 3 is expected mid-year with over 200 miles of range, and the competition is running laps around Nissan.
Nissan was one of the earliest movers in EVs, but the company hasn't adapted to the market's desire for more range. And I'm afraid the LEAF is permanently branded as a low-range, uninspired EV that needs to be scrapped to make room for a well-thought-out EV that can compete with the next generation of competitors.
An iconic car that Americans no longer seem to want
John Rosevear (Ford Taurus): It was once the best-selling car in America. Its nameplate was famously revived by Alan Mulally in one of his first acts after becoming CEO in 2006. But here in 2017, it looks like Ford Motor Company's (NYSE:F) once-iconic Taurus is on its last legs -- at least in the United States.
Today's Taurus is different from the Tauruses (Tauri?) that were the best-sellers back in the 1990s, and it's different in ways that have hit it especially hard as buyer preferences have swung away from sedans and toward crossover SUVs. For one thing, the current Taurus is considered a full-size sedan, not midsize, like its predecessors. Ford's midsize Fusion is still a strong seller, but sales of the Taurus, like those of most of its full-size rivals, have slumped in a big way. Ford sold just 34,626 Tauruses in the U.S. last year, down over 11%. (By contrast, it sold 265,840 Fusions.)
It's not just about the slumping market segment, though. The design of the current Taurus has some drawbacks. Notably, its back seat is more cramped than you'd expect in a car of its size. That wasn't considered a big deal when it was all-new way back in 2010, but it's a big deal now that cushy back seats have become an important selling point for big (and midsize) sedans. (That back seat, by the way, is a big reason Ford has struggled to sell the Taurus as a police car: Cops say that getting handcuffed suspects into the back seat can be awkward, especially if the arrestee is struggling.)
Ford could fix those drawbacks with an all-new Taurus. In fact, it did: Ford launched an all-new Taurus for 2016 that shares its architecture with the new Lincoln Continental. But Ford is only building it in China, where large sedans are still popular. There are apparently no plans to start building it for the U.S. market.
It's possible Ford could import some examples of the Chinese-made Taurus to replace the current model for those customers who still want a big Ford sedan. But I don't think it's likely: I suspect the Ford Taurus will be gone from the U.S. for good (or at least for a while) in a year, maybe less. Times change.