The skeptics were shocked and not at all pleased when, in 1916, the infant auto industry chalked up 1 million car sales for the first time. How, they wondered, could 1 million people buy one of those smelly, dirty, noisy horseless carriages in a single year?
But the critics had another prediction, and that one was a lead-pipe cinch. Never, they said, never will a single brand sell a million cars a year.
They reckoned without Henry Ford and his wondrous Model T. It took a while, but in 1923, Ford dealers put 1,184,976 Model T's in the hands of eager buyers. Amazing!
Chevrolet that year sold 291,761 cars. Pretty puny when compared to Ford, but it was the first time that any make other than Ford had topped 200,000. The Model T passed a million again in 1924, 1925 and 1926, and the Model A did it in 1929 and 1930 before the depression throttled the industry.
Chevrolet didn't reach 1 million until 1949. From the 1950s to the mid-1990s, both giants exceeded a million car sales just about every year. Chevy fell out of the charmed circle in 1996, Ford in 2002. Chevy has had a dozen 2 million-car years; Ford has had two.
Throughout auto history, 1 million has always been a magic number. Aside from Ford and Chevrolet, only one make has reached that total in car sales: Oldsmobile (that's right, Oldsmobile) in 1983-86. John DeLorean, the General Motors wunderkind of long ago, predicted that Pontiac would do it in the late 1960s. Pontiac didn't; its high-water mark was just short of 900,000 in 1978.
Turning to trucks, the Magic Million list is just as exclusive as it is in cars, but one player is different. In cars, as noted, it's Ford, Chevrolet and Oldsmobile. In trucks, it's Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge. Dodge turned the trick in 1998, 1999 and 2000.
Trucks were late bloomers in the high-volume market. Until the mid-1980s, they were beasts of burden; virtually no one bought them for personal use. (A personal reminiscence: In 1976, a close friend bought an orange-and-white GMC pickup as a family vehicle. I thought he had lost his mind.)
Trucks didn't capture 20 percent of the U.S. new-vehicle market until 1974.
The first million-sales year for light trucks was 1964. Ford reached that figure for the first time in 1977, Chevrolet in 1976.
Taking cars and trucks together brings million-a-year laurels for two Japanese makes. Toyota topped that total in 1994 and has repeated every year since. Honda made it in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
So the million-sales-a-year club is a select group, indeed. It includes four domestic makes (Ford, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Dodge) and two that call Japan home (Toyota and Honda). That's six out of the several hundred brands that have been sold in the United States since 1896.