In September, General Motors and Ford Motor Co. learned that it takes more than fire-sale prices to move cars and light trucks.
And the foreign automakers that operate in this country found that their old-fashioned, tried-and-true merchandising procedures are still pretty darn good.
The Chrysler group was an exception. It is the lone member of the Big 3 that saw its U.S. sales rise for September and for the first nine months of this year. Despite Chrysler's efforts, Big 3 market share in September plunged to 54.9 percent.
September sales for the U.S. industry were a ho-hum 1,329,753, down 7.5 percent from last year, which itself was no barnburner. The year to date has produced 13,197,316 U.S. sales, up 2.8 percent from 2004. The seasonally adjusted annual rate was 16.5 million, down from 16.7 million in August.
Purveyors of the Big 3's domestic brands were chanting the "inventory blues" in September -- "Ya can't sell 'em if you ain't got 'em."
Three months (four for GM) of selling to everyone at employee prices had depleted stocks to the extent that dealers were hard-pressed to display models that caught shoppers' fancy.
For example, on Sept. 1, GM dealers had an average of 35 cars and 70 trucks on hand. But GM had 24 lines of cars and 32 lines of trucks in the 2005 model year. Slim pickings.
Coupled with the Big 3's generous rebates, employee pricing meant Ford Motor, GM and the Chrysler group were selling their vehicles at prices well below dealer cost. Despite that lure, Big 3 market share for domestic brands dropped to 54.9 percent in September. Last year, it was 61.6 percent. It was the second consecutive disastrous month for the Big 3; their August share was 54.1 percent, the all-time low.