3RD IS PRIME TIME
For 70 years, the battle for third place has been the hottest in the auto industry. First and second belong to Ford and Chevrolet (or Chevrolet and Ford, depending upon the era), but the third spot is open to any high-volume brand, and half a dozen have held it at one time or another.
The race continues. Toyota had a big January and moved ahead of Dodge by 6,411 units. Dodge has been third for six years in a row.
In the 1930s, the 1940s and the early 1950s, third place belonged to Plymouth, as befitted the third member of the low-priced three.
Buick took over in 1954, but Plymouth returned in 1957 and held third place until 1961, when the Wide Track Pontiacs of Bunkie Knudsen, Pete Estes and John DeLorean captured the spot and held it for the rest of the decade.
In the 1960s, Pontiac executives wore a tiny gold '3' in their left lapel. You think they weren't proud of what that pin represented?
Plymouth, Dodge and Pontiac fought it out in the early 1970s, and then Oldsmobile's reign began. Olds held third place from 1975 through 1986 and is the only make other than Chevrolet and Ford to sell a million cars in a year.
It was Dodge in 1987-89, and then Toyota began a four-year stint as No. 3. Dodge has had that distinction since 1994.
And now it's Toyota again. Third place continues to be the hardest spot on the sales chart to get - and to keep.
TRUCKS SMASH RECORDS
Every segment except cars set sales records in 1999. Light-vehicle sales approached 17 million, the biggest year of all time. Truck sales topped 8.2 million to ring up their seventh consecutive record, and all three segments of the truck market had their best totals ever.
Pickups and sport-utilities surpassed peaks they reached in 1998. Vans (big and little) broke a record that had been on the books since 1994.
On a year-to-year basis, pickups and vans topped their 1998 sales by 9 percent; sport-utilities notched a 15 percent gain.
And cars? They had a good year, up 7 percent over 1998. But last year's 8,749,986 car sales total was 23 percent below the record of 11,408,920 that was set in 1986.
But cars continued to outsell trucks. Cars had 51.6 percent of the pie last year. In 1986, cars' best year for volume, they had 71 percent.
HYUNDAI RIDES HIGH
The economy in its home country is a mess, but Korea's Hyundai is doing quite nicely in the United States, thank you. Hyundai's January sales in this country were up 96 percent over last year. And that followed a full-year gain of 82 percent in 1999.
Kia was up 62 percent for 1999, but it slipped 14 percent in January. Daewoo, the third member of the Korean delegation, sold nearly eight times as many cars in January as it did the previous January. Daewoo entered the U.S. market in September 1998.