The 2011 Ford Mustang did the old "snatch victory from the jaws of defeat" thing in June, outselling the Chevrolet Camaro (and Dodge Challenger, of course) on a volume basis even as it was actually losing customers as compared to June 2010. The final tally had the Mustang slipping 1.5 percent and ringing up 8,835 sales, the Camaro moving ahead by 12.5 percent on 8,466 sales, and the Challenger not really living up to its name by garnering just 3,384 deliveries, albeit achieving a 10 percent growth rate.
Overall, it was another so-so sales month in the modern-day muscle-car segment, capping off a six-month span in which all three have essentially been treading water. The Mustang is behind its 2010 pace by 2.5 percent, Camaro has seen a 5.1 sales improvement in the first half (at least partially fueled by increasing availability of the convertible model), with the Challenger riding its recent refresh to a 14 percent sales advance through June and becoming the only one of the three to outperform the industry's overall first-half growth rate of about 12.8 percent.
I read these results—and especially those June performances—as seriously disappointing, and perhaps even a sign that the industry is reaching some kind of natural ceiling for muscle-car sales. Which makes it a curious coincidence that Kia is now rumored to be working up a V-8-powered rear-wheel-drive coupe for the upcoming Frankfurt (Germany) Motor Show.
Mustang V-6 vs. Honda CR-V
Comparing the Blue Oval's high-efficiency high-performer—31 mpg highway/305 hp—to the highly popular Honda CR-V may seem like a wacky move, but it turns out that the V-6 muscle cars make a nice match against the smallish crossovers in two key areas: MSRP and fuel efficiency.
The starting price for the Mustang V-6 is $22,310 and its full EPA ratings are 19 mpg city/31 mpg highway/23 mpg combined, while the corresponding figures for the base CR-V include a $21,895 price of admission and an EPA line of 21/28/24. And given the way different vehicles tend to cluster around similar points in the same segments, it's no surprise to find out that this sort of comparison holds up fairly well with the Camaro and Challenger on one side and the Toyota RAV4 and its ilk on the other. It's just an odd quirk of automotive evolution.
However, as I implied, it does provide an opportunity to make some broad statements about consumer preferences, since we can say that vehicle cost and fuel efficiency are NOT responsible for the differences in sales numbers here. The crossovers obviously offer a different kind of package, one that puts an emphasis on people/cargo hauling, and the customer demand for that kind of package is just as obviously able to support entries from just about every automaker in the U.S. In fact, while the comparison is an admittedly rough one, it is worth pointing out that the top two crossovers in the country in June, the Ford Escape and Chevy Equinox, finished with nearly double the sales numbers of the Mustang and Camaro.
The situation gets to something I've touched on occasionally in previous stories: The number of truly competitive vehicles in most segments of the industry is growing faster than the demand necessary to allow all those entries to achieve the volume of sales their quality would otherwise seem to "deserve." To put this in concrete terms, some company—e.g., Kia—could very well put together a RWD V-8 coupe that is just as much of a "muscle car" as the traditional trio, with the same kind of power and fuel efficiency and everything else, and never have the car reach even the Challenger's monthly sales total—just because there aren't enough customers out there interested in that kind of car.
Kia Barking up the Wrong Tree with a K9 Coupe?
So what about this new Kia coupe? Well, the rumor is that it will be built off the brand's soon-to-debut flagship sedan, currently stuck with its Korean-market name of the "K9." The basic idea seems to have Kia following in the footsteps of its corporate sibling, which has been selling the Hyundai Genesis in both sedan and coupe form for a number of years now. But keep in mind that, despite racking up a bunch of third-party honors—including Hyundai's first-ever North American Car of the Year Award in 2009—total sales for both models only reached 3,149 units in June.
Now, there are some reasons to believe Kia will be able to turn up better sales with its new coupe. A high-performance two-door is a better fit with Kia's market positioning as a more athletic brand, as well as its aggressive exterior design language, and it also would help with the company's burgeoning motorsports presence—remember, the Kia Forte Koup just won its second GRAND-AM race, with the brand and its top driver currently No. 1 in the manufacturer and driver points races.
And while I don't think a bigger Kia coupe would outsell either the Camaro or the Mustang, if the company is content with Genesis-like sales from its own Genesis-like duo, I think a few thousand customers a month will be quite happy.