The monthly sales report is a gold mine for lovers of automotive facts and figures. Every number has a story to tell. Here are some of those stories.
MINIVANS MOVE UP
First-quarter sales figures indicate that minivans are making a comeback. The kid carriers notched a 19.4 percent sales gain in the first quarter with a total of 341,617 deliveries.
With one exception, every minivan nameplate produced by General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and the former Chrysler Corp. posted a sales increase. The laggard was the GMC Safari, and it was down only 132 units.
The leaders were the Dodge Caravan/Grand Caravan and the Ford Windstar, each up more than 11,000 sales for the quarter. On a corporate basis, the Dodge entries, the Chrysler Town & Country and Plymouth Voyager/Grand Voyager gave DaimlerChrysler a wide lead.
Sales of import-badged minivans shot up 61 percent in the first quarter. The big gainers were the Honda Odyssey, the Nissan Quest and the Toyota Sienna. The new Odyssey quadrupled its year-ago sales. All three of the leaders are assembled in North America.
Minivan sales slipped about 1 percent last year, to a total of 1,221,982. The high point was 1,260,848 in 1994. That's about the same as domestic station wagons in their heyday. In 1978, a very good year for wagons, the count was 1,283,889.
BIGGEST GAINERS ...
Land Rover, Porsche and Volkswagen were the biggest sales gainers, on a percentage basis, in the first quarter. Land Rover jumped 64 percent, Porsche was up 63 percent and VW advanced 61 percent. Next in line were Saab, up 51 percent, and Lexus, up 45 percent.
In volume, it was no contest. Ford Division dealers delivered 98,177 more new cars and trucks than they did in the first quarter of 1998. Substantial gains also were posted by Dodge, up 38,521; Toyota, up 37,156; and Pontiac, up 30,861.
... AND BIGGEST LOSERS
The biggest loser, again based on percentage, in first-quarter sales was Lincoln, down 22 percent. Two other luxury brands were second and third - Jaguar was off 18 percent, and Cadillac dipped 16 percent. They were followed by Suzuki, down 11 percent, and Mazda, down 10 percent.
Lincoln, off 10,314 sales from last year, also had the biggest decline in first-quarter volume. Lincoln was followed by Cadillac, down 6,884, and Mazda, down 5,730.
CARS LEAD CLOSE RACE
The March tabulation was cars at 51.5 percent and trucks at 48.5 percent. Translating those figures to sales, the nation's dealers sold 792,498 cars, which was 47,530 more than the 744,968 trucks they sold.
For three months, it was cars, 51.4 percent; trucks, 48.6 percent. By the numbers, that's 2,016,211 cars, which is 110,009 more than the 1,906,202 trucks.
That first-quarter figure is higher than truck sales for any full year prior to 1972.