With 3 months down, can 2012 deliver more than 14M?
John K. Teahen, Jr. is senior editor of Automotive News
Many, many years ago, my favorite college professor drilled into us that there are three degrees of liars: liars, damn liars and statisticians.
Hmm. I have been a statistician in the auto industry for 57 years, and I was a statistician for the Detroit Lions professional football team for 53 years. In all of that work, I have always tried to live up to the positive side of that statement by Dr. Frank Arlinghaus: A statistician is OK if he sticks to subjects that need statistical treatment.
For instance, don't compare new car and light-truck sales in a fair year to those in a rotten year and exult over the improvement.
An example: New-vehicle sales this March totaled 1,404,623 units, which was 13 percent better than last year. Now, 13 percent is a good-sized increase, so the writer (or statistician) would be tempted to crow that the auto recession is over and things are back to normal in the nation's premier industry, etc.
Not so fast, Bub
But wait a minute. Sales in March 2011 were the lowest for that month in 18 years (except for the horrific totals of 2010 and 2009). So a 13 percent gain isn't all that great.
Better to compare March 2012 with March 2007, the industry's last "normal" year. It was the last of nine consecutive 16-million-plus sales years. This March's sales were 9 percent lower than in March 2007.
So it boils down to this: A writer must exercise good judgment and knowledge of the subject when quoting statistics. Anything less denotes immaturity and lack of perspective.
So what were the particulars of March sales? The most encouraging sign was the seasonally adjusted annual rate. It was 14.36 million new cars and trucks. That is the anticipated 2012 total if sales continue at their present pace throughout 2012. They probably won't.
Some forecasters say they will. Mike Jackson, the CEO of AutoNation; Morgan Stanley; and TrueCar.com have crawled out on a limb. Jackson and TrueCar see 14.5 million this year; Morgan Stanley envisions 14.8 million. A year ago, the SAAR was 13.06 million.
Ford: Numero uno
First-quarter sales are subject to the same test as March sales when it comes to a statistical comparison. The total of 3,467,389 was 13 percent better than last year's weak performance, but it was 11 percent below 2007.
The statistician must decide which is the better comparison. I vote for 2007.
The Ford brand maintains a healthy lead over Chevrolet and Toyota in the race for brand supremacy. After three months, the score was Ford, 516,986; Chevy, 448,134; Toyota, 423,016. In March, Ford topped Toyota by 37,633 sales and Chevrolet by 41,008.
Detroit 3 vehicles simply cannot grab 50 percent of the U.S. market. The Detroit 3 had 43.7 percent of the market in March and 44.3 percent for the first quarter. Other shares for March and the quarter were: Japan, 38.5 percent and 37.9 percent; Korea, 9.1 and 8.7; and Europe, 8.7 and 9.1.