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Cars take the exit: Parts shortages force automakers to end Mazda 6, Toyota Avalon in favor of SUVs

Cars take the exit: Parts shortages force automakers to end Mazda 6, Toyota Avalon in favor of SUVs

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Cars take the exit: Parts shortages force automakers to end Mazda 6, Toyota Avalon in favor of SUVs

As the pandemic drags on, passenger cars are increasingly running out of gas.With a global shortage of semiconductor chips limiting the production of new vehicles, automakers are continuing to scrap car models, leaving even fewer options for drivers who don’t want an SUV or pickup.The latest casualties include the Volkswagen Passat, the Toyota Avalon and the Mazda 6. All three are going away.And now the Chevrolet Malibu, one of the only remaining cars sold by General Motors, is on shaky ground, as well.A long-running decline in car sales and the crushing chip shortage spawned by the pandemic have collectively forced automakers to prioritize the vehicles that are more popular and make them more money: crossovers, SUVs and pickups. As a result, more cars are on the chopping block.“I can’t think of many smaller vehicles for sale at this point,” says Jessica Caldwell, analyst for car-research site Edmunds.Car rental shortage and impact on summer travel, explainedFrom rental cars to new cars, there is a shortage in the motor-vehicle industry. Here’s how it may impact summer travel.Just the FAQs, USA TODAYRisk and reward: Millennials are quitting jobs to become cryptocurrency day tradersMove here, get paid: Small towns offer up to $20K just to get you to live there, work remotelyIn 2010, passenger cars comprised about 1 in 2 vehicles sold in the U.S., according to Edmunds. By 2020, fewer than 1 in 4 vehicles sold were cars.Only a few compact cars remain – including the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra and Hyundai Elantra – after the recent discontinuation of vehicles like the Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze.Subcompact cars are even harder to find following the demise of the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio and Nissan Versa.Toyota ended the Yaris earlier in the pandemic.Still, the company’s North American executive vice president for sales, Bob Carter, said on a July 28 conference call that the company was not giving up on cars.“No, quite the opposite,” Carter said in response to a question from USA TODAY. “There is a need for sedans. … It is a profitable business for us.”He added that “you will see on our product plans over the next couple of years a doubling down of our efforts.”Less than a week later, Toyota announced that it was discontinuing the Avalon, a large sedan that has fallen on hard times as buyers gravitate toward crossovers and SUVs that ride higher and provide more interior space with similar fuel economy. The 2022 Avalon model will be the vehicle’s last one after 18 years in production.“While Avalon will be discontinued after the 2022 model year, Toyota remains committed to the sedan segment and we encourage customers to stay tuned for future developments,” the automaker said in a statement.The Avalon couldn’t escape the fate of similarly sized cars, such as the Chevrolet Impala and Ford Taurus, that have met their demise in recent years, noted Stephanie Brinley, principal automotive analyst for research firm IHS Markit.“They just don’t need it,” she says. “It’s just gotten to that point where they’re better served investing somewhere else.”With the pandemic having scrambled the supply chain for chips, which are needed to power the electronics in vehicles, automakers are being forced to make shrewd decisions about how to use their limited supply.In some cases, like with Ford’s popular F-150 pickup, the company is parking nearly finished vehicles for weeks until chips arrive and can be inserted. In others, like with GM, the automaker is taking features out of its vehicles or putting a stop to production altogether.That’s what’s happened with the Chevrolet Malibu, which GM stopped making in February at its assembly plant in Kansas City, Kansas. The plant, which was temporarily shut down due to the chip shortage, is expected to reopen within weeks but only to make the Cadillac XT4, a crossover.Malibu production will remain suspended indefinitely.“GM does plan to restart production of Malibu, but we have not specified a date,” Chevrolet spokesman Trevor Thompkins said in an email.As with stores that close for renovations after a natural disaster but then never reopen, you have to be wonder if we’ve seen the last of a vehicle that wasn’t selling well.Malibu sales fell 22% to 102,651 from 2019 to 2020. That was worse than GM’s overall 12% decline for the year. At 2020 levels, sales are roughly half of the vehicle’s performance a decade ago.“The risk is if GM feels like their sales are OK without it, maybe they’re less excited to bring it back,” Brinley says.To be sure, Chevrolet’s recent identity has been tied to pickups like the Silverado and SUVs like the Equinox rather than to the Malibu.  The Volkswagen Passat, meanwhile, is being discontinued in America following a limited-edition 2022 model of the sedan, VW spokesman Will Gock confirmed in an email.Its end comes more than 30 years after the Passat nameplate made its debut in the U.S. But the vehicle has suffered several setbacks. The diesel version was one of the vehicles that cheated regulatory standards in VW’s emissions scandal, leading to it being scrapped as part of a negotiated trade-in program.The Passat had also struggled to keep up with larger, more popular VW models in recent years. SUVs like the three-row Atlas and the recently enlarged Tiguan have surged in popularity while VW’s car lineup has struggled, Caldwell says.Plus, the VW Jetta, which has historically been a compact car, has been infringing on the Passat’s midsize sedan turf.“With the Jetta getting larger with every iteration, it seemed to take that spot anyway,” Caldwell says.The upshot for car buyers is that many automotive brands no longer offer a cheap ride, as new vehicle prices are now averaging more than $40,000.“I do wonder if that entry point into the new vehicle market is going to be gone or are we going to have lower-cost smaller SUVs,” Caldwell says.And yet, even some small SUVs are on the chopping block.In an announcement that it was discontinuing the Mazda 6 sedan, Mazda also said that it was ditching the CX-3 compact crossover.“Consumer interests,” Mazda said in a statement, “continue to evolve.”You can follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey and subscribe to our free Daily Money newsletter here for personal finance tips and business news every Monday through Friday morning.


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