Ford Motor Co. and General Motors loaded extra incentives on full-sized pickups in December as they each struggled to win the pickup sales crown.
The result was a split decision. The Ford F-150 remained the best-selling nameplate, but GM claimed the title of No. 1 company in full-sized pickup sales for the first time since 1995 by combining Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra sales.
The competition elevated light-truck sales, which for the full year fell just short of exceeding car sales for the first time.
December sales were 1,314,320, 5.7 percent ahead of the corresponding month last year. That was slower than booming sales in October and November but better than some analysts expected, considering automakers cut back on 0 percent offers after Thanksgiving.
Overall, 2001 sales of 17,177,445 were the second best ever, off just 1.3 percent from the record of about 17.4 million in 2000
Ford Division offered dealers extra incentives ranging from $500 to $1,500 per unit starting Nov. 21, then upped the ante to $750 to $2,250 per unit on Dec. 12, according to a memo sent to dealers.
Ford offered an additional $2,500 cash incentive for dealers to buy as many as five new 2001 or 2002 F series for parts-and-service use within the dealership. The two programs could be paired, permitting dealer cash payments of as much as $4,750 on five units.
But GM fought back.
Chevrolet dealer Tommy Brasher, owner of Brasher Motors of Weimar, Texas, said GM offered dealers a $750 rebate on the Chevrolet Silverado, Chevrolet Avalanche and GMC Sierra as parts-and-service trucks, for the last two weeks of 2001. GM also had a year-end $500 customer rebate, he said.
The result: the Ford F series had record December sales of 84,278, up 35.2 percent. For the year, the F series had record sales of 911,597, topping last year's record by 4 percent, and the Ford pickup also kept its title as the best-selling light vehicle for the 25th consecutive year.
"When the month of December started, I wasn't even thinking about 900,000; I didn't really hold out much hope we would exceed last year's sales," of 876,716, said George Pipas, Ford sales analysis and reporting manager.
But GM passed Ford in total light-truck sales for the full year for the first time since 1994 by a margin of 147,384 units, for all brands combined. A year ago, Ford outsold GM by 126,263 units in light trucks. It also was the first time light trucks made up more than 50 percent of GM's light-vehicle sales, said Paul Ballew, general director of global market and industry analysis for GM.
Bill Lovejoy, GM group vice president of North America vehicle sales, service and marketing, said GM had a tactical advantage in December because its 0 percent offers expired Wednesday, Jan. 2, while Ford's 0 percent financing is expiring Jan. 14. "We think Ford made a mistake," with the later deadline, Lovejoy said.
Ralph Seekins, chairman of the Ford Division National Dealer Council, took issue with GM claiming pickup-sales leadership. "F series is still the sales leader," he said. Seekins owns Seekins Ford-Lincoln-Mercury in Fairbanks, Alaska. "If you have to throw in Chevrolet and GMC just to beat Ford, I don't know how you can call that a victory."
Asian, luxury imports grow
As expected, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. topped 10 percent market share for the full year, a first for any importer. Toyota Division sold a record 1.7 million light vehicles for the year. Lexus Division also had record sales, and Lexus was the No. 1 luxury brand for the second consecutive year. Toyota and Lexus combined had a 9.2 percent light-truck market share, compared with 7.7 percent in 2000.
American Honda Motor Co. had record sales for both Acura and Honda brands. The Honda Accord regained its position as the nation's best-selling car for the first time since 1991.
Hyundai Motor America and Kia Motors America Inc. also had record sales. The two Korean brands were the industry's biggest gainers compared with year-ago sales. Hyundai sales jumped 41.7 percent for the year; Kia, 39.3 percent.
Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America Inc. also had record 2001 sales. So did Subaru of America Inc., barely topping a record set in 1986.
Several luxury import brands also had record annual sales. Besides Acura and Lexus, records were set by Audi of America Inc., BMW of North America LLC, Jaguar North America, Mercedes-Benz USA LLC and Volvo Cars of North America.
"Things are starting to fall into place," said Dan Werbin, president of Volvo's U.S. sales and marketing subsidiary, based in Irvine, Calif. He said Volvo is sticking to a goal of 200,000 units annually in North America by "2004 or 2005," even though U.S. sales gained only 2 percent to 125,673 last year. c
Staff Reporters Dave Guilford and Mary Connelly contributed to this report.