9 hottest selling cars this year

24/7 Wallstreet Staff

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Car sales are on a tear. Through the first five months of 2013, U.S. car sales are up by 8.2%, compared to the same period last year. Some of the more popular models have posted even more substantial growth, well into the double digits.

Most of the popular models with major increases in sales have undergone some significant changes recently. In most cases, it has been a design overhaul of the entire model.

Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst at Kelley Blue Book, explained why redesigns of vehicles have had such an impact on the sales. “These are all the latest and greatest redesigns, so they really feature the best in terms of tech, in terms of features and amenities, in terms of style and design, and really in terms of fuel economy.”

The increasing importance of fuel economy gave some redesigned models a leg up on older models. It also led many auto manufacturers to introduce new hybrid models, which has boosted sales for some of the other models on this list. Lexus introduced the Lexus ES-300h to its ES line in 2012. Toyota released a hybrid model under its Avalon brand.

The importance of fuel efficiency also has led many auto buyers to transition to one of the fastest-growing segments in the auto business — crossover utility vehicles, or CUVs. Gutierrez explained that these cars are meeting the desire for the space and utility of an SUV with better fuel efficiency. CUV sales through May are up 13.9%.

Based on sales data provided by Kelley Blue Book, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the nine models that sold more than 25,000 units in the United States between January and May of 2013, and are up by 25% compared to the same period of last year. We also reviewed the past five full years of sales. All combined fuel economy estimates listed are based on the smallest engine size and the least expensive configuration, with numbers provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

These are the nine hottest cars this year.

9. Ford Escape

2013 Jan.-May sales: 127,932
2012 Jan.-May sales: 98,667
Pct. change in sales: 29.7%
Fuel economy: 26 mpg

Ford Motor Co. sold 127,932 Escapes in the first five months of 2013, a 29.7% increase from the same period in 2012. In 2008, Ford sold 139,434 units for the year. The Ford Escape’s 2013 model was the first full redesign since its introduction in 2001. The new model includes a panoramic moonroof, an automated parking option and a soft-touch dashboard. Popular Mechanics named the Escape “Car of the Year” in its 2013 Automotive Excellence Awards, praising the car’s “excellent engine options, abundance of technology and great price.”

8. Hyundai Elantra

2013 Jan.-May sales: 104,081
2012 Jan.-May sales: 80,114
Pct. change in sales: 29.9%
Fuel economy: 32 mpg

Last year, Hyundai sold nearly 188,000 Elantras, or more than double the number it sold in 2009. Hyundai is on pace to pass that figure this year as well — the Korean carmaker has sold more than 104,000 Elantras through May, up from slightly more than 80,000 at the same point in 2012. The Elantra was the second-most popular car sold by Hyundai in the first five months of 2013, after the Sonata. Likely contributing to sales, Hyundai added a coupe to its Elantra lineup for 2013. All three current Elantra models start at less than $20,000.

7. Chevrolet Tahoe

2013 Jan.-May sales: 35,067
2012 Jan.-May sales: 26,847
Pct. change in sales: 30.6%
Fuel economy: 17 mpg

Chevrolet is on pace to sell 84,161 Tahoes in 2013, a sizable increase from the 68,371 sold in 2012. Sales of the SUV have fluctuated in the past five years. The best year for Tahoe sales was in 2008, when Chevrolet sold 88,655. Sales then plummeted to 69,953 in 2009 before rising in 2010 and 2011. U.S. News and World Report rated the 2013 Tahoe the best affordable large SUV, beating out the Chevy Suburban, Ford Expedition and GMC Yukon. The publication said the Tahoe “offers good interior material quality with plenty of standard features, even on the base trim. Fully equipped, the Tahoe is a near-luxury SUV.”

6. Ford Explorer

2013 Jan.-May sales: 84,646
2012 Jan.-May sales: 63,269
Pct. change in sales: 33.8%
Fuel economy: 20 mpg

Sales of the Explorer cratered in 2009 and 2010, when fewer than 50,000 units were sold. But Explorer sales have skyrocketed in the past two years, with the help of a redesign for the 2011 model year that transformed the model from a traditional SUV to a crossover vehicle. In 2011 and 2012, Ford sold roughly 135,700 and 164,200 Explorers, respectively. Just through May 2013, sales for the model totaled almost 85,000 in the United States, an increase of more than 33% from the first five months of 2012. Some of this increased demand may have come from the addition in 2013 of the Sport trim of the model — the most expensive available on the Explorer at more than $40,000.

5. Subaru Forester

2013 Jan.-May sales: 40,578
2012 Jan.-May sales: 29,863
Pct. change in sales: 35.9%
Fuel economy: 23 mpg

Subaru is on pace to sell 97,387 Foresters in 2013, if sales continue at the rate of the first five months. This would be a major jump from the 76,347 sold in 2012. The Forester is the second most popular car sold by Subaru, after the Outback. The newly redesigned 2014 Forester, which went on sale earlier this year, was ranked as the top small SUV by Consumer Reports, which praised the vehicle’s “space-efficient design, large windows and big square doors,” among other things. The Forester was also the only small SUV to pass a front-offset crash test conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

4. Lexus ES

2013 Jan.-May sales:
2012 Jan.-May sales: 14,485
Pct. change in sales: 92%
Fuel economy: 24 mpg

The Lexus ES passed 56,000 in sales in 2012, after a difficult year in 2011 when sales fell to just 40,873. Likely helping to boost sales, Lexus released its sixth-generation ES-Series in 2012, which also included the launch of a new hybrid version of the ES 350, called the ES 300h. Buyers responded well to the new ES-Series vehicles, and so far in 2013 sales are up 92% from the year before. One possible incentive: the ES 300h gets 40 mpg combined, versus 24 mpg for the standard version model.

3. Toyota Avalon

2013 Jan.-May sales: 30,945
2012 Jan.-May sales: 14,883
Pct. change in sales: 107.9%
Fuel economy: 25 mpg

The Toyota Avalon’s sales more than doubled in the first five months of 2013, compared to the same period in 2012. In fact, the 30,945 Avalon units sold from January to May is more than Toyota Motor Corp. sold in any full calendar year between 2009 and 2012. The 2013 redesign “brought with it sleek new styling, a stiffer chassis, and improved ride and handling qualities,” according to Edmunds. In addition, Toyota released the Avalon Hybrid in 2012, which receives 40 mpg combined city and highway, compared to the 25 mpg of the non-hybrid version.

2. Mazda CX-5

2013 Jan.-May sales:
2012 Jan.-May sales: 11,480
Pct. change in sales: 171.8%
Fuel economy: 29 mpg

The Mazda CX-5 was new on the market in 2012. It has sold 43,319 units, more than any other model it produces except the Mazda3. In order to increase fuel efficiency, the Madza introduced its SkyActiv technology platform on the CX-5, which includes an efficient engine and transmission, as well as a lightweight chassis. Even with the model’s strong start last year, sales of the CX-5 have picked up even more in 2013, with more than 31,000 sold through the first five months of this year. Among the changes made for the 2014 model year, which is already out, is that the higher end versions come with a more-powerful engine that still maintains good fuel economy.

1. Nissan Pathfinder

2013 Jan.-May sales: 38,179
2012 Jan.-May sales: 12,644
Pct. change in sales: 202.0%
Fuel economy: 22 mpg

No top-selling car increased its sales more than the Nissan Pathfinder, as 202% more units were sold in the first five months of 2013, compared to the same period in 2012. The redesigned Pathfinder’s 22 mpg combined is higher than previous models. The vehicle also weighs 500 pounds less. Following a test drive, USA Today said the car is “quiet, soaks up bad pavement pretty well and is tastefully appointed inside.”