With just over 16.5 million new vehicles sold in 2014, the US auto industry has returned to its pre-recession strength. Certainly, there is room for additional growth with 17 million units within reach. The auto industry is back and has returned in a significant way.
Models such as the Ford F-150 and Toyota Camry receive much press and they should: both are perennial segment leaders, the F-150 for nearly four decades running and the Camry for the past 13 years. Beyond the two leaders there are several other models that shine, including the following five that made a mark in 2014.
1. Toyota Corolla
Toyota’s Corolla has long served as a portal model to the Toyota brand. Purchase a Corolla, keep it for years, upgrade to a Camry and then pass your Corolla on to your son or daughter. This model’s reliability is of legends and it has the facts to back it up.
For some buyers, moving up to a Camry or any other vehicle is not part of the equation. Beginning in 2014, Toyota restyled the Corolla, making it slightly larger, sportier and an even better value than previously. Its most efficient model is rated at 42 mpg on the highway and a nicely-equipped model can be had for under $20,000.
Like the Camry, Toyota has a formula for success on its hands in the Corolla, once again the best selling compact model ahead of the Honda Civic. Corolla sales climbed by 12.3 percent in 2014 on 339,498 units sold.
2. Nissan Sentra
Look at the compact segment and the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic routinely fight for top honors. Also weighing in is the Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus. Beginning in 2014, the redesigned Nissan Sentra made a name for itself, as its sales soared by a whopping 41.9 percent on 183,268 units sold.
New for 2014, the current generation Sentra is larger, more enticing and roomier than ever. Like the Corolla, a well-equipped model can be hand for under $20,000, a price point that appeals to a lot of families. The continuously variable transmission also ensures excellent fuel economy with the FE edition rated as high as 30 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.
3. Kia Soul
Kia has created a cult-like following with its Soul “urban hatchback car.” It is nearly inconceivable to examine this model without its anthropomorphic hamsters. Kia has weathered some criticism that its hipster characters are too humanlike, yet buyers do not seem to mind.
Indeed, in 2014 the second-generation Kia Soul was released, and this one has helped the Korean automaker gain market share. Sales surged by 23.1 percent last year on 145,316 models sold. What’s significant about that is both its Nissan and Scion competitors have struggled to serve the same market. Specifically, the Nissan Cube was canceled as the model year came to an end.
4. Nissan Versa
Subcompact models typically do not sell especially well in the United States. Certainly, sales are greater than they were a decade ago, but with so many affordable and roomy compact models on the market, this sector is often bypassed for more spacious, but still affordable vehicles.
Nissan, however, has turned that convention on its ear, by delivering sedan and hatchback versions of its Versa subcompact without trouble. The company has also taken a two-prong marketing approach to the segment, by selling the five-door hatchback as the Versa Note and the four-door as the Versa sedan.
What buyers have found is a car that is unusually roomy for the segment, thrifty on fuel and can be purchased for about $15,000. The Versa may not be a family car, but 139,781 buyers in 2014 found that it meets their transportation needs. A 19.1 percent sales upsurge underscores the Versa’s strength.
5. Subaru Forester
The Subaru Forester is an SUV that acts more like a tall station wagon. That appearance is not lost on buyers who appreciate the vehicle’s roominess, utility and handling characteristics. Introduced in 1998, the Subaru Forester is now in its fourth generation. The current iteration is not a radical departure from the previous model and that is just fine with buyers.
For 2014, Forester sales surged by 29.4 percent to 159,953 vehicles sold. it was Subaru’s best selling model for the year and one of five model lines registering a sales boost of at least 17 percent. No wonder Subaru sales have doubled over the past five years — this once niche manufacturer has gone conventional.
Honorable Mention Models
There are other models that could just as easily found a place on our list. The Chevrolet Cruze is now in its sixth model year, however its sales do not show the customary end of product cycle decline. Indeed, Cruze sales rose by exactly 10 percent in 2014 to 273,060 units sold.
The BMW 3 Series may have been split between 3 and 4 model lines, but the combined interest for these compact luxury cars continues to grow. In 2014, sales for the two lines were a collective 142,232 units for a 19 percent increase over 2013.
Sales figures supplied by Good Car Bad Car. Soul photo courtesy of Kia Motors.