Sales of import-badged cars and light trucks are rolling along. Perhaps roaring along is a better term. They took 1.7 percentage points of market share from the Big 3 in the first five months of this year.
So it's obvious that every vehicle wearing a foreign name is having a great year, right?
Not exactly. In fact, it's pretty close to half and half for the major import brands.
Automotive News counts 24 major imports, brands with sales of more than 1,000 new vehicles a month. That omits exotic sports car makers such as Ferrari and Aston Martin and ultra-expensive sedans such as Rolls-Royce and Maybach.
Of those 24 major makes, 13 posted sales increases for the first five months and 11 suffered declines.
Some of the gains were significant. Scion, Toyota's new little brother, nearly tripled its sales compared with the first five months of 2004, and BMW's Mini had a 23.2 percent gain on the strength of its new convertible. Nissan Division was up 15.5 percent, and Hyundai and Land Rover climbed a bit more than 10 percent.
Also moving ahead were Kia, Acura, Suzuki, Toyota Division, Porsche, Subaru, Infiniti and Lexus.
Some of the losses were equally significant. Isuzu, down 47.5 percent, replaced Mitsubishi as the biggest loser. Mitsubishi dipped 38.4 percent for the five-month period. Jaguar fell 27.9 percent, and Volkswagen division slipped 25.1 percent.
Also down were Saab, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Honda, Audi, BMW Division and Mazda.
While 13 import brands showed sales increases this year, only four domestics were able to do so: Chrysler, Mercury, Cadillac and Dodge.
Requiem for a T-Bird
Ah, those portholes, that roofline! This 1957 T-Bird coupe is the real deal ...
... but this undistinguished topless 2005 model betrays its proud Thunderbird heritage.
But it's a tragedy that the current
T-Bird is dying. It shouldn't happen, and it wouldn't have happened if Ford had taken my advice a few years ago.
How's that for a pompous statement?
OK, I'll explain.
After a four-year absence, the Thunderbird returned in 2001. There were four choices, priced from $35,495 to $38,995. But they were all convertibles. No coupe in the lineup.
The car was a retro re-do of the magnificent 1954-57 T-Birds, and the coupe was king in those years. Sure, a ragtop was available as an option, and Ford probably sold a couple of them. But the coupe is what made the Thunderbird the Thunderbird. It was the roofline and the distinctive portholes on the 1956-57 models.
The new T-Bird offered a removable hard top. Great, if you had a work crew in your entourage to carry the top and put it on or take it off as needed.
I was appalled; I've owned five Thunderbird coupes. I urged Ford in this column to add a coupe for less than $30,000. Sales of the new ragtops never met expectations.
I'm convinced that the plant would still be working overtime if a coupe had been in the stable.
But Ford didn't listen.
Trucks had 52.9 percent of U.S. sales in May, just a snippet above the 52.8 percent of January.
Stated another way, cars are holding steady but they aren't gaining market share -- despite many new lines offered for 2005, both import and domestic.
On the basis of five-month sales, it's clear: The United States has become a nation of truck drivers.
You may e-mail John K. Teahen Jr. at [email protected]