CHARTING THE EXPLORER
A three-month look at Ford Explorer sales shows that Ford's prime-time sport-utility just about matched its rivals in August and September but fell behind them in October.
Those are the three months of the Ford-Firestone tire mess. In August, Firestone recalled 6.5 million tires, most of them used on Explorers. The treads were separating from the tire carcass, causing vehicle rollovers and deaths. Congress held hearings, and neither company came out smelling like a rose. The question remains: Is it the tires or is it the vehicle?
Whatever, Explorer sales in August rose 3 percent over August 1999. Sales of all other nameplates in the mid-sized sport-utility class went up 4.7 percent. It was pretty much the same in September: Explorer sales up 1.1 percent; all other mid-sized sport-utilities up 2.7 percent. The Explorer didn't fare quite that well in October. Sales were down 16.4 percent from last year while the rest of the mid-sized sport-utility group dipped 7.2 percent.
For the three months since the recall began, Explorer sales were down 3.8 percent; sales of other mid-sized sport-utilities were flat, up 101 units or 0.02 percent. But the Explorer is still No. 1 in sport-utility sales by a wide margin.
In October, the Explorer was fifth in car-truck sales in the United States. The only other sport-utility in the Top 10 was the Chevrolet Blazer in 10th place.
The tire situation undoubtedly played a part in the Explorer's October sales slide, but it was not the only factor. Dealer inventories may be pinched. Ford shut its St. Louis Explorer plant for three weeks in August and September to divert tires to the recall. That took 15,000 vehicles out of the pipeline.
Also, a redesigned Explorer will go on sale in January. Ford suggests - and sincerely hopes - that a lot of prospects are waiting breathlessly for the new model.
CAMRY LEAD DIPS
The Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Ford Taurus - in that order - are the best-selling cars in the United States again this year, but the race is a lot closer than it was in 1999.
After 10 months last year, the Camry was 41,000 ahead of the Accord and nearly 80,000 ahead of the Taurus. This year, the Camry leads the Accord by 14,000 sales and is 26,000 ahead of the Taurus.
The Accord has outsold the Camry in each of the past five months, but it is unlikely to overcome the Camry's 14,000-unit edge in the last two months of the year.
So the Camry is a pretty sure bet to win the U.S. car sales crown for the fourth year in a row.
TRUCK SHARE RISES
Light-truck sales dipped a bit in October - an unusual occurrence - but October was the second-highest month of the year for truck market share. The 652,454 deliveries represented 48.8 percent of the U.S. car- and light-truck market. Truck share slipped to 46.8 percent in August and has been rising since then.
March was the best month of this year for trucks, with 49.7 percent. March sales were 829,425, the highest monthly total ever.
SALUTE TO THE SMALL
In this day of flashy mid-sizers and brutish sport-utilities, the small car is pretty much forgotten in the U.S. market. But a few of them have something to crow about this year.
Chevrolet's Prizm shows a 12.3percent gain, and the Dodge Neon is 3.8 percent on the plus side.
At Ford Division the new Focus is even with last year's Escort, and the Focus is Ford Motor Co.'s No. 2 car seller. Only the Taurus tops it.
The Nissan Sentra is riding high with a sales advance of 46.9 percent. Honda's Civic is up only 2.6 percent, but it is the nation's best-selling small car.
And the Chrysler PT Cruiser must be mentioned in any small-car rundown. Sales began last April, so it's not among the year-to-date top sellers. But it has another distinction: the longest waiting list of any U.S. car.