With only one month left in the year and a solid November out of the way, 1998 light-vehicle sales are on track to be the second-best on record, after 1986.
Led by light trucks, which outsold cars for the first time since immediately after World War II, light-vehicle sales last month were up 2.1 percent from a year earlier to 1,145,236 units.
For the year to date, sales are up 2.5 percent to 14,251,506 units, despite strikes that crippled General Motors sales for more than two months.
That puts 1998 sales on track to finish just ahead of 1988, when the industry sold 15.5 million light vehicles, said Bob Rewey, Ford Motor Co. group vice president for marketing, sales and service. The record year was 1986, when the industry sold 16 million light vehicles.
'It has been an excellent year,' Rewey said last week in Ford's sales report.
Ford's November sales were up 2.1 percent, even though its car sales fell 8.4 percent from a slow month a year earlier. Ford claimed its seventh straight monthly sales record for light trucks, which were up 8.7 percent from a year earlier.
'Sport-utilities are the only segment (for the whole industry) that since 1991 has shown double-digit increases every year,' said George Pipas, Ford sales analysis and reporting manager.
But Van Bussmann, DaimlerChrysler Corp.'s corporate economist, said trucks will not outsell cars on a sustained monthly basis anytime soon. November's increase to more than 50 percent of the total market was a seasonal bump that was nearly matched in November 1997, he said.
'Eventually, you probably will have light truck sales greater than car sales on a sustained basis,' he said. 'Not for a couple of years, but that's the trend.'
In its first monthly sales report, DaimlerChrysler AG reported a record November for the former Chrysler Corp. brands combined, and also for U.S. Mercedes sales.
Dodge Division had record November sales, 14.8 percent ahead of the year-ago month. for the year to date, Dodge was up 17.3 percent.
Mercedes already has a U.S. sales record for the year, with 11-month sales up 43.5 percent to 154,457. Mercedes should be the top-selling import luxury brand this year ahead of Lexus and BMW, and not far behind domestic rivals Cadillac and Lincoln.
GM: NOT BAD, CONSIDERING
GM said last week it still expects to set a light-truck record in 1998, despite the strikes earlier this year.
November sales were off 5.7 percent for GM, including Saab Cars USA Inc. For the month, GM's car sales were 3.3 percent behind the year-ago month. Light trucks were down 8.2 percent in November, but are still up 3.4 percent for the year to date.
'Despite the drop in our sales for November, we're encouraged by the acceptance of our newest products,' said Roy Roberts, group executive of GM North American Vehicle Sales, Service and Marketing. He cited the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra full-sized pickups, the Oldsmobile Alero and the Cadillac Seville.
However, the strikes in June and July torpedoed GM's stated goal of reclaiming lost market share in 1998. After 11 months, GM's share is down 2 points from a year earlier, to 29.3 percent.
GAINS FOR HONDA, TOYOTA
Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. was the big market share winner in November, picking up 1.4 points to 9.1 percent. Toyota Division passed 1 million units year to date in November. Combined with a record month for Lexus, Toyota Motor was up 21.3 percent in November from a slow year-ago month.
'This year is shaping up as one of the industry's best-ever, thanks to sustained strong sales through the fourth quarter,' said Yale Gieszl, executive vice president, in Toyota's sales report.
The Toyota Camry looks like it has a lock on the No. 1-selling car title for the second year in a row, ahead of the Honda Accord and well ahead of the Ford Taurus.
American Honda Motor Co. Inc. rose 4.6 percent in November, including a 1.5 percent gain for Honda Division. Slumping Nissan Motor Corp. U.S.A. dropped 12.8 percent for the month, dragged down by a 16.8 percent drop at Nissan Division.