While much of the industry broke records during the first half of 1999, Chevrolet's shrinking sales stood out like a pink Corvette.
Chevrolet car and truck sales were down 4.7 percent January through June. Market share dropped a massive 1.9 percentage points.
Just a continuation of Chevrolet's long-term tailspin?
'Obviously in the second half we think we're going to be much stronger with new product out there,' said Kurt Ritter, Chevrolet's general marketing manager. He is in charge of Chevrolet marketing, reporting to John Middlebrook, general manager of vehicle brand marketing in North America.
The longtime king of the industry, Chevrolet lost its truck crown to Ford Division in 1986 and its car crown to Ford in 1992.
Ritter attributes Chevrolet's first-half decline to routine cycles:
The gradual ramp-up of the Tracker and Impala
A reduction in car fleet sales by 14 percent or 22,488 units
And last year's success of General Motors' 'loyalty coupon' incentive programs.
On the car side, most of the lost units stem from two issues: the reduction in fleet sales, including 13,400 fewer Malibus, and the build-out of the Lumina, he said. Lumina sales dropped 33,149 units during the first half of the year as Chevrolet switches over to Impalas. Chevrolet is selling both now, but the Lumina will be phased out at the end of the year.
On the truck side, Ritter thinks comparisons with last year are misleading. During the first half of 1998, GM's loyalty coupons helped boost Chevrolet's light-truck sales 17.6 percent from the first half of 1997.
Tahoe sales, in particular, suffered from the year-to-year comparison, he said. They dropped to 58,675 in the first half of this year, from 79,340 in the first half of 1998.
Sales of top-seller Silverado squeaked ahead of last year's pace, 312,381 vs. 308,156. In the first half of 1998, Chevrolet was selling its previous-generation C/K full-sized pickup.
But Ford F-series sales in the same period jumped 46,911 to 449,941.
Ritter, however, expects a turnaround in the second half as Chevrolet ramps up four new vehicles: the Impala, the redesigned Monte Carlo, the Tahoe and the Suburban. The new Tahoe and Suburban go on sale this fall.
Additionally, Chevrolet dealers finally are getting the redesigned Tracker compact sport-utility in significant numbers. Ritter points out that in June the Tracker outsold rival Toyota RAV4.
Ritter says initial sales of the Impala are encouraging. In June, Chevrolet sold 7,162 Impalas, which still are ramping up to full production.
'I really do think we've got the strongest lineup we've had in certainly over a decade,' Ritter said.
REGAINING THE CROWN?
Still, the sales gap between Chevrolet and Ford Division widened dramatically during the first half - from 295,672 in the first-half of 1998 to 490,127 in the first half of this year. And Chevrolet faces more obstacles.
Chevrolet faces the success of Ford's Super Duty pickups and the launch this fall of the Ford Excursion, a sport-utility seven inches longer than the 1999 Suburban.
Ritter acknowledges that the loss of Chevrolet's No. 1 status still rankles Chevrolet dealers. Regaining that crown is still one of his visions.
Said Ritter: 'Is it easily achievable? The answer to that is absolutely not. Is it going to be achievable this year, next year, or the year after? No, no, no. Can it ever be achieved? The answer to that is an unqualified yes.'