Cars take a back seat
Slowly but surely, General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler group seem to be abandoning the car market.
But the talk on the street is that there are a lot of cars in the planning stage, although they won't enter the pipeline for four or five years.
At the moment, however, it's a truck world. Sales figures bear that out, and it is even more apparent when you examine the new products the Big 3 have in their immediate plans: a zillion trucks but few cars.
Trucks are the darlings of today's market, and the Big 3 have embraced them with both arms. Cars still outsell trucks by a small margin in this country, but they are getting scant attention in the new products headed for Big 3 dealerships.
There are plenty of Big 3 concept cars, as can be seen at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week, but concept cars don't bring in one dime of revenue. They are styling exercises that may or may not reach the showroom. But their number and their originality bode well for the future of the car side.
In the past five years, Big 3 car sales have declined 624,000; import-car sales have risen nearly 1 million.
GM was the hardest hit of the Big 3, down 438,000; Ford lost 141,000 cars, and Chrysler lost 45,000. The import gains have been well distributed - 538,000 for the Europeans, 276,000 for the Koreans and 170,000 for the Japanese. The Big 3 have lost volume and market share in a rising market. That is not good.
Take a look at the car product activity during those five years. GM has added the Chevrolet Impala, a strong seller, and the Cadillac Catera, a weakling. The Oldsmobile Alero, Intrigue and a new type of Aurora arrived, and you know what happened to them.
For Ford, the Ford Focus is new and strong (it replaced the Escort), and the Lincoln LS is a 50,000 seller. The LS isn't a Ford design; it's based on the Jaguar S-Type. The Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique tried and failed.
New for the Chrysler group since 1995 are the Chrysler 300M and the PT Cruiser. The PT Cruiser was introduced last spring, and demand still exceeds supply.
Not a very impressive car performance for the three companies.
The list of products due soon is heavy on trucks: the Chevrolet Avalanche, Buick Rendezvous, Saturn Vue, a new Ford Explorer, the Lincoln Blackwood, the Jeep Liberty and a redesigned Dodge Ram pickup. Already introduced are the 2002 Cadillac Escalade and a new Chevrolet Trailblazer, GMC Envoy, Oldsmobile Bravada, Ford Escape and Ford Explorer SportTrac.
The most interesting for-sure car - a real car, not a concept - is the 2002 Ford Thunderbird, a low-volume (25,000) stunner that is scheduled to arrive this summer.
Last year the sales mix was 70 percent trucks for the Chrysler group and 60 percent trucks for Ford Motor Co. GM trailed with 49 percent trucks.
For the entire industry, the 2000 breakout was 51.7 percent cars and 48.3 percent trucks. Trucks topped 50 percent in November. They might do it for the full year in 2001.
Call them `swoose vehicles'
More and more vehicles that defy an accurate description are entering the U.S. market. They are half car and half van, or half pickup and half SUV, or half this and half that. So far, the industry hasn't coined an all-inclusive name for its new breed.
OK, how about 'swoose vehicles'? It's not really a new term.
In the 1940s, bandleader Kay Kyser had a novelty number called 'Alexander the Swoose.' It told of a feathered friend that was half swan and half goose; therefore, a swoose.
The ditty was sung by a gent named Ish Kabbible.
You can e-mail Senior Editor John K. Teahen Jr. at [email protected]