5 Auto Brands That Should Take the U.S. Market More Seriously

Source: Volvo

The United States is one of the most lucrative auto markets in the world. Americans love their cars: We have an affair going back generations with our vehicles, which have gone through many an evolution over the decades. These days, people are learning to love compact, fuel-efficient SUVs and midsize sedans, and, of course, pickup trucks.

While Americans are still flocking to brands they love — namely, Toyota, Honda, Ford, and General Motors — there are many other companies on the periphery still selling a significant amount of vehicles, even though they lag way behind the biggest players. Naturally, these automakers are able to put a heavier dent in international markets, whether it be in Europe, South America, or Asia, but they still seem complacent on letting the bigger companies rule the roost in North America.

But why is that? And should those companies, despite the troubles they’ve had gaining traction in the American market, simply sit back and be complacent? Given that consumer taste, and demand as a result, is constantly shifting, there should be ample opportunity for different automakers to make their mark.

As a result, it’s fair to say that there are companies out there that should take the American market more seriously. Read on to see five of them, and the reasons why they should put more resources into converting American drivers.

Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

1. Volkswagen

It may feel like you see Volkswagen vehicles all across America, but the truth is that the company has never broken the 4% mark in market share in a given year, according to figures from WardsAuto. In 2014, VW sales made up 3.26% of all auto sales, a far cry from the 17.43% that General Motors laid claim to, for example. Given the company’s popularity in other international markets, Volkswagen should have an easier time selling its compact and efficient lineup of cars and SUVs to Americans, right?

VW may be gearing up for a new assault on the American market in an effort to finally take some significant market share. There are some new SUVs in the pipeline, which should appeal to U.S. drivers, as well as some fancy concepts that might eventually find their way to market. Those include the Golf R Touch, a technology-loaded Golf variant, and even cars like the XL Sport, which could end up taking on some high-performance luxury models.

Source: Volvo

2. Volvo

Volvo faces a much steeper uphill climb than Volkswagen, with WardsAuto’s numbers telling us that Volvo has never even cracked 1% of overall auto sales in the United States. 2014 actually ended up being the worst in a very long time, adding up to only 0.33%.

But Volvo is considerably smaller than many other companies, and it tends to focus on a more concentrated segment of luxury buyers. In a bit of an unusual strategy, Volvo seems content with not chasing volume sales — not in the United States, anyway.

In an effort to get the ball rolling in the right direction, Volvo is changing up things a bit. Instead of hitting all of the world’s auto shows, Volvo will instead be hosting an event of its own to attract more attention. It has several new models in the works, including plug-in versions of its popular SUVs, which may steer American drivers away from competitors like Lexus, Audi, and BMW.

Volvo will likely never compete with big sellers like Ford or GM, but it has the mechanical chops and the luxury lineup to steal market share from its main competitors. A few rehashed models and some new tech features should be able to convert at least a few new disciples.

Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images

3. Mitsubishi

Many Americans may have flat-out forgotten about Mitsubishi at this point. The Japanese automaker has always lagged well behind companies like Honda and Toyota, but in recent years, the company has nearly fallen out of the American market completely.

In 2014, Mitsubishi accounted for only 0.46% of all American auto sales, and it’s likely due to a stagnant lineup in desperate need of refurbishing. For example: the company 86’d the Lancer, the Mirage simply can’t hold up against others in its segment, and the brand’s main SUV attraction somehow manages to look older and less exciting than than its predecessor.

Luckily for remaining American Mitsubishi fans, there is a strategy for a resurgence in the States. There were plans announced a little while back to introduce new models, reintroduce old ones, and throw some hybrids and electric vehicles into the mix as well. And that’s good news, seeing as how right now, the company’s current lineup is rather bare, with only six models.

At one time, Mitsubishi was one of America’s fastest-growing car companies; there’s no reason to think it can’t be again. It’ll just need to kick things into gear.

Source: Subaru

4. Subaru

Yet another Japanese car company that doesn’t seem to be living up to its full potential in the U.S. market, Subaru isn’t quite as downtrodden as Mitsubishi, but the company probably could be doing better than it has been. WardsAuto’s figures put Subaru’s market share at 3.05% for 2014, which is the first time the company has broken the 3% mark. So perhaps Subaru already has a game plan in place for going after American consumers?

Subaru’s sales from last year indicate a nearly 0.4% increase in overall market share from the year before — the entirety of Volvo or Mitsubishi’s, for some perspective — meaning that the company is doing something right. Subaru has the tools (efficient, reliable compact cars and SUVs), and now, it just needs to find a way to get more drivers to buy in. Perhaps some more performance models like the Japanese-only Forrester tS or getting more experimental, like it did with the Baja?

Subaru has some momentum in the U.S. Now, it just needs to sustain and build off it. The company has prided itself on being more of a niche automaker than anything, so finding the right balance between growth without compromising its unique approach to auto manufacturing will be key.

Victor Decolongon/Getty Images for Mazda Motor Co.

5. Mazda

On the surface, there’s really no reason Mazda can’t be vastly more successful in the United States than it is. WardsAuto puts Mazda’s market share in 2014 at 1.82%, and the company has never broken 2% in any given year. Still, Mazda produces the vehicles that Americans have been adopting en mass in recent years, with the exception of heavy- and light-duty pickup trucks.

Mazda’s vehicles — like the Mazda6, MX-5 Miata, and the CX line of SUVS — all cater extremely well to American tastes. They also win their fair share of awards. They’re priced reasonably, reliable, and aesthetically pleasing. So what’s holding the company back? It could be that it needs some new models, and perhaps the reintroduction of small pickups to the lineup could make a difference as the Chevy Colorado heads back to the market.

More performance-focused models could help, as well, like a rehashed RX-7. More importantly, Mazda will need to expand its U.S. operations in order to save money on importing cars. It’s an underrated company that can definitely play ball, but without investing in some American infrastructure, Mazda will always be playing catch-up.

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