The monthly sales report is a gold mine for the lover of automotive facts and figures. Every number has a story to tell. Here are some of those stories.
IT'S A RECORD
It's official. Take it to the bank.
New car and light-truck sales this year are the highest in the history of the U.S. auto industry. The record was set last Friday, Dec. 10, when sales edged past the former peak of 16,026,426, which was reached in 1986.
The Dec. 10 record date was determined by Anne Wright, Automotive News assistant managing editor for data services. She also is our chief statistician and manager of the Automotive News Data Center, which generates most of the statistics that appear in this newspaper.
As of Nov. 30, this year's sales totaled 15,558,293. Wright estimates that in the first nine selling days of December, U.S. dealers moved 471,132 new cars and light trucks. That made the Dec. 10 total 16,029,425, a few thousand above the 1986 mark.
Every new vehicle sold until the end of this year will push the 1999 total higher. Wright puts the final 1999 count at about 16.9 million.
The old record was set only 13 years ago, but it's a completely different market in terms of vehicle mix. In 1986, cars had 71.2 percent of U.S. sales. Trucks set a record for volume, but they accounted for only 29 percent of total sales.
This year, cars have plunged to 52 percent of the total. Trucks, which had already set a full-year volume record by the end of November, had 48 percent.
SPEAKING OF TRUCKS ...
November was a banner month for the purveyors of pickups, vans and sport-utilities. They captured 49.73 percent of the market, their second-highest penetration of the year and only 0.023 percentage point behind year-leading January.
But trucks failed to match their year-ago performance. In November 1998, trucks carved out 50.54 percent of the market. In other words, trucks outsold cars.
Some graybeards say that hadn't happened since shortly after World War II. Others are skeptical. They say it had never happened before.
3 YEARS, 3 LEADERS
For the third year in a row, the luxury market will have a different sales leader.
In 1997, it was Cadillac as, indeed, it had been for 48 years. Last year, Lincoln took the crown after Cadillac admitted it had padded its December 1998 sales in an effort to save its title.
This year, the king will be either Mercedes-Benz or Lexus, with Mercedes the favorite. The German make led by 1,294 at the end of November, and Lexus simply doesn't have enough cars on hand to overcome that advantage.
It has been close all year. Lexus was 33 units in front at the end of June and maintained its edge through September. Mercedes moved ahead in October and increased its margin in November.
Lincoln and Cadillac have been also-rans this year. At the end of November, Cadillac was 8,378 behind Mercedes, and Lincoln was 10,323 back.