Last year, VW sold 1.6 million compact sedans in China.
Is the sedan a gradually fading force within the automotive landscape, or will it continue to find favor alongside trucks and SUVs? According to Volkswagen's latest sales figures, it really depends on the geographical location in question. So, while Texans are as attached to their Ford and Ram trucks as ever before, the outlook in China is different, where Volkswagen sold over 1.6 million compact sedans last year. Globally, VW says that compact sedans accounted for almost a third of all deliveries.
By contrast, just over 100,000 units of the VW Jetta were sold in the US last year, its only compact sedan offering within the local market. In China, the brand offers no less than six sedans to cater to a market that values big trunks and spacious cabins, with less emphasis on the desirable image that makes high-riding SUVs so popular elsewhere.
The news comes as China recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced the widespread shutting down of automotive production facilities. Now, however, Volkswagen says that most of its China-based plants are back up and running, with the remainder of 2020 being an opportunity for the German marque to build upon its growing market share in the Asian country.
Leading the way was the Lavida sedan, a SAIC-Volkswagen product in its third generation. Last year alone, 491,000 units of the Lavida found homes in China, which makes it "the best-selling model of all manufacturers in 2019." FAW-Volkswagen is the German brand's other joint venture in China, and among its successes is the Bora sedan which moved 323,400 units last year. Like the Lavida, an electric version of this sedan is also sold in this market.
The Jetta name lives on in the new Jetta sub-brand launched in China last year. The Jetta VA3 sold 145,000 units last year, although it is a much smaller model than the Jetta sold here, using only a 110-horsepower 1.5-liter engine.
Interestingly, a survey conducted by Ipsos (a market research institute) last month indicated that more Chinese people intend to buy a car some time over the next six months. Of the 1,620 respondents, two-thirds plan to do so, with the reason cited being that a private car provides less exposure to infection than other forms of transport. While Covid-19's effect on the automotive industry has been largely negative, this survey points to an unexpected upside once the world's production plants get back to full productivity.
So yes, the sedan not only lives on but is an important player for major brands in the Chinese market. In truck-crazy America, the outlook is very different. Aside from stalwarts like the Honda Civic and Toyota Camry, both of which still cracked the US vehicle sales top 10 last year, it's tough out there for sedans in general; for instance, the last Chevrolet Impala rolled off the production line earlier this year.
As more sedans fall out of favor stateside, at least there's the small comfort for traditionalists that elsewhere in the world, leading automakers like Volkswagen are still seeing the classic three-box body style rack up big numbers.