It's pretty early to predict 2001 light-vehicle sales down to the eighth digit, but I'm willing to try.
I'm guessing that 17,025,343 new cars and light trucks will be sold in the United States this year. If I'm close to the right number, you'll hear a lot more about my prowess as a prognosticator at the end of the year. If I'm way off, I assure you that the number never will be mentioned again in this column.
My method of assessing sales is rather simple. I did not consult meteorological charts to see what is in store for the Northeast in December or how many buyers will be turned off by West Coast downpours during the fall. I did not pore over mileage charts to determine how many cars are approaching the end of the road. Nor did I factor in the number of overweight men in Idaho or the number of bilingual teen-agers in Oklahoma.
The range of error (every good survey includes such a figure) is zero to 50 percent.
This is strictly an arithmetical estimate. From 1995 through 2000, first-half sales accounted for 51.17 percent of full-year sales. If that holds true this year, the 2001 total will be 17,025,343. The first half brought 8,711,868 deliveries, which is 51.17 percent of 17,025,343.
Quod erat demonstrandum.
Should the full year wind up close to my guess, it would be the second highest in the history of the auto industry. It would be 2.2 percent below the record of 17,410,144 set last year, and it would make 1999, 2000 and 2001 the three best years the industry ever has enjoyed.
On the fast track
What's the fastest-growing segment in today's market? You're a year behind the times if you answered 'sport-utilities.'
It's the sport wagons, those perky little half-car/half-truck vehicles that will do just about anything a sport-utility can do but in a kinder, gentler manner.
In the first half of this year, sport wagons chalked up 366,412 sales. They still trail pickups, sport-utilities and vans in the truck market, but their rate of growth is by far the best. They are up 171.7 percent this year, while sales of pickups, sport-utilities and vans have declined.
New nameplates have pushed the sport wagons to the fore. Seven of the 11 entries were not on sale a year ago, and those seven accounted for 57.8 percent of sport wagon sales in the first half of this year.
One of the newcomers, the Ford Escape, is the best-selling line in the segment with 82,804 deliveries this year. Holdovers Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 are second and third, and the new Toyota Highlander is a strong fourth.
Good news and bad news
The five best-selling import-badged brands fared much better than the five best-selling domestic brands in the first half of this year. Sales of the imports were up 7.7 percent; sales of the domestics fell 3.2 percent.
Chrysler was the only one of the top domestics to post a gain, and the Chrysler gain is spelled PT Cruiser. Sales of the popular retro sedan more than tripled in the first half of this year, enabling the Chrysler brand to report an increase of 17.4 percent.
Chevrolet sales were down 3.4 percent, and the percentage dips for the others were tallied in double digits: Ford, 10.5 percent; Pontiac, 12.1 percent; and Dodge, 13.9 percent.
Hyundai was the import headliner among the top five import sellers with an advance of 33.3 percent. Two newcomers - the Santa Fe sport wagon and XG 300 sedan - did the job for Hyundai.
Toyota and Honda recorded moderate gains (up 5.0 and 2.0 percent, respectively), and Nissan and Volkswagen showed moderate losses (down 6.2 and 3.7 percent).
In the overall sales ranking for the first half, Ford was first, Chevy second, Dodge fourth, Pontiac seventh and Chrysler eighth. Among imports, Toyota was third, Honda was fifth, Nissan was sixth, Volkswagen was 12th and Hyundai was 13th.