It's no secret that the U.S. auto industry is gunning for a sales record this year, but the record the industry is shooting for is not quite so clear.
Many news stories have mentioned the 'current record of 16 million-plus, set in 1986.'
That's not the way you refer to a record. A record is a specific number, and in the case of new-vehicle sales, it is 16,026,426 in 1986. That year, the industry sold 11,408,920 cars and 4,617,506 light trucks.
As the accompanying table shows, this year's sales were 8 percent ahead of 1986 in the first half - 8,540,069 to 7,910,786.
Incidentally, midyear sales in 1998 were 0.9 percent ahead of midyear 1986, but the full-year total wound up 433,053 short of the record. The General Motors strike depressed sales in the second half of 1998.
Today and each month until the record is broken - if, indeed, it is broken - this column will present 'Going for the Gold,' a rundown of sales for the most recent month and for the year to date, 1999 vs. 1986.
`L' IS FOR LEXUS
And `L' is also for Luxury. The two fit together especially well this year. Lexus leads in sales for the first six months, the first time it has had such a lofty ranking at the midway point.
But Lexus scarcely has room to breathe. Mercedes-Benz is just 33 sales behind. Cadillac is third, only 2,465 off the pace; Lincoln is fourth; and BMW is fifth.
BMW is 11,726 sales behind leader Lexus. BMW has no sport-utility; Lexus sold 40,969 sport-utilities in the first half - 46 percent of its total volume.
BMW's X5 sport-utility arrives this fall; BMW then will be competing on a level playing field.
Look for continued fierce competition in this highly competitive and highly interesting segment.
TRUCKS RULE THE TOP 10
Trucks haven't quite caught cars in the overall sales standings, but they had a decided edge among the 10 best-selling makes of vehicles in the first six months of this year.
The Top 10 sellers of cars, trucks or both accounted for 89 percent of the light trucks sold in the United States in the first half. They also racked up 60 percent of car sales for an overall car-truck share of 74 percent. The Top 10 are Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, Toyota, Honda, Pontiac, Nissan, Jeep, GMC and Buick.
The huge truck share (89 percent) is interesting because one of the Top 10 (Buick) doesn't sell trucks, and two others - Honda and Pontiac - have only limited participation.
Honda does not sell pickups, and Pontiac offers neither pickups nor sport-utilities.
Trucks make up only 11 percent of the sales mix for Pontiac, 21 percent for Honda, 35 percent for Nissan and 38 percent for Toyota. They are 'car guys.'
Conversely, light trucks account for 65 percent of sales for Chevrolet, 68 percent for Ford and 75 percent for Dodge. They are 'truck guys.'
For the record, cars captured 51.9 percent of U.S. sales in the first half, and trucks had 48.1 percent. Trucks moved up slightly from midyear 1998, when the score was cars, 52.5 percent; trucks, 47.5 percent.