If you drive a car, get used to being looked down on:
More than 7.4 million Americans bought light trucks in 1998, beating the former record set in 1997 by more than half a million, or 7.9 percent.
Trucks carried 1998 to the second-highest sales total ever, at 15.6 million light vehicles, compared to the record 16 million in 1986. But in 1986, light trucks accounted for only 28.8 percent of sales. Last year, it was 47.5 percent.
The 1998 car-truck total was 2.9 percent ahead of 1997, and it was the first time the industry has sold more than 15 million light vehicles three years in a row. The high 1998 sales were achieved despite crippling, midyear strikes at General Motors. Without the strikes, 1998 would have been in the running for the all-time record.
The year ended on a high note: December light-vehicle sales were up 7.1 percent over 1997. Car sales were off 1.2 percent for the year, but new 1999 models helped car sales improve 4.2 percent in December. December light-truck sales were 10.2 percent ahead of the year-ago month.
Highlights for the year:
Ford Motor Co. claimed an industry record for light-truck sales, at more than 2.3 million. GM also had its best-ever light-truck sales, despite the strikes. DaimlerChrysler Corp. set a light-truck record and a light-vehicle record for its former Chrysler Corp. brands combined. Mercedes-Benz also had record U.S. sales.
European imports boomed, up 18.7 percent for the year (story on Page 61). Volkswagen of America Inc., which now includes VW, Audi, Rolls-Royce and Bentley, had its best year in more than a decade, up 55.1 percent over 1997.
Nissan Motor Corp. U.S.A. fell 14.7 percent for the year. Other Japanese brands did better. American Honda Motor Co. Inc. topped 1 million sales for the first time. Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. set a sales record in 1998, including a gain of 60.1 percent for Lexus.
1999: DOWN, BUT NOT MUCH
Bryan Bergsteinsson, Lexus Division general manager, said at last week's North American International Auto Show in Detroit that he hopes for industry sales of 15 million light vehicles in 1999, even though some forecasters predict sales will dip below that total.
'I see some upside for the market next year, especially the luxury segment, even though most people figure it will be a down market,' Bergsteinsson said. 'A lot of that depends on global economic issues, but all the inflation, unemployment and consumer confidence numbers are good, so I'm bullish for next year.'
17 YEARS AT NO. 1
No surprise, the top-selling vehicle in 1998 was the Ford F-series pickup - for the 17th year in a row. The Toyota Camry was the top-selling car for the second year in a row. Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. ensured that outcome by blowing more than 55,000 Camrys out the door in December with dealer and customer incentives and an advertising blitz. The Camry topped the No. 2 Honda Accord by 28,504 sales for the year.
At the Detroit show, George Muller, president of Subaru of America Inc., pointed to the explosion of trucklike cars and carlike trucks with all-wheel drive.
'There is an advantage in saying, 'I'm all-wheel drive. I'm more trucky. I'm more adventurous. I'm more rugged,'' he said in an interview.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Jan. 5, at the Detroit show, Fred Schwab, president of Porsche Cars North America Inc., defended Porsche's controversial decision to build a sport-utility. The Porsche SUV, which goes on sale in 2002, will be built in a joint venture with Volkswagen AG.
'The demand is here. The demand is here for a long time. Why not have fun?' Schwab said.
It looks like Porsche North America will have to change its name.
Staff Reporter Mark Rechtin contributed to this report