ONE FOR THE BOOKS
Post this date on your bulletin board: Saturday, Dec. 11.
That's when 1999 officially will become the top year for new-vehicle sales in the United States. On Dec. 11, this year's sales will top the 16,026,426 posted in 1986, currently the record year.
The Dec. 11 prediction comes from Anne Wright, Automotive News assistant managing editor for data services. Wright is our chief statistician and is manager of the Automotive News Data Center, which supplies the numbers used throughout this newspaper each week.
The table accompanying this column shows that this year's sales through Aug. 31 totaled a bit more than 11.5 million, which was 8.9 percent more than the eight-month total in 1986.
So the industry needs 4.5 million sales in 102 selling days to break the record this year. That's an average of 44,210 a day. Looks like a piece of cake when you consider that in August, sales totaled 1,485,266 in 26 selling days, an average of 57,126 a day.
But don't put the new record in your computer just yet. A long, costly strike against any of the automakers could change the bubbly talk of a record to the dirge that is so familiar to the fans of the Detroit Lions and Detroit Tigers: 'Wait till next year.'
It's probably a bit early to state flatly that the truck boom has ended. But car people are wearing broad grins as they point to the August sales shares.
In August, cars captured 54.1 percent of the U.S. light-vehicle market, their high point of the year. In fact it was the highest share for cars since August 1998, when cars took 55.1 percent of the pie.
The August breakout of 54.1 percent cars/45.9 percent trucks compares with this year's eight-month result of 52.2 percent cars/47.8 percent trucks.
EUROPEANS RIDE HIGH
Without a lot of chest-thumping and back-patting, the Europeans are having another banner year in the United States. Last year, their sales rose 28.6 percent over 1997. For eight months this year, sales were 24.5 percent ahead of 1998.
Seven of the nine major European marques are up 18 percent or more this year.
Who is the biggest gainer on a percentage basis? If you say Volkswagen, you're wrong. VW has a nifty 38.9 percent increase, but its stablemate, Audi, is the leader with a jump of 42.7 percent. The next two places go to Jaguar, up 41.3 percent, and Saab, up 39.5 percent.
Jaguar is an example of what a hot new model can do. The S-Type went on sale in May. In August it took 53 percent of Jaguar's sales, and for the year to date it had 38 percent.
And Saab's success makes GM partisans wish that the domestic brands could match GM's Swedish entry. Pontiac, Buick and Oldsmobile show gains of 23 to 26 percent for the year to date, but Saturn, Cadillac and Chevrolet have upturns of less than 7 percent over 1998.