DETROIT -- And the winner is . . .
. . . Chevrolet, the best-selling brand in the United States for 2005.
But it wasn't cut and dried. Chevy was the winner when the automakers announced their 2005 totals on Jan. 3. It outscored the Ford brand by 17,083 units to claim the top spot for the first time since 1986.
Then R.L. Polk checked in with its 2005 registration figures. They showed that Ford was the winner by 5,572.
Each set of figures is correct, given its parameters. Automotive News is sticking with Chevrolet as the 2005 champion. Here's why.
Sales reflect cars and light trucks, and that is the industry's standard for determining the leader. Polk's registrations include all trucks - light, medium and heavy. Ford sells more than four times as many medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks - such as the Ford F-350 - as Chevrolet.
Since 1975, car and light-truck sales, as reported by the manufacturers, have been the official source of the annual totals. There is no compelling reason to change that procedure.
Dealers count a sale when it is made. Polk does not count it until the registration shows up at the state motor vehicle department and that department reports it to Polk. That may be several days after the sale, the following year in the case of a late-December sale.
In Polk's favor, every registration it reports is backed by a piece of paper (or computer entry) in a state motor vehicle office. The automakers' numbers are the sums of sales reported by dealers.
It's hoped the dealer numbers are accurate. There are penalties for cheaters.
The automakers' figures include all 50 states. Polk sometimes is unable to obtain registration lists from this or that state. In those cases, Polk goes to the manufacturer to ensure accuracy.
So most of the high cards seem to be in the automakers' hands. Except one: Accuracy depends on the honesty of the individual corporation or brand. Unfortunately, there is a huge blot on General Motors' record in that department.
In early January 1999, Cadillac reported that its dealers had sold 23,861 cars and trucks in December 1998, overcoming Lincoln's lead and winning 1998's luxury sales crown by 222 units.
The number was suspect. Cadillac hadn't sold 23,000 vehicles in a month since May 1990. But GM and Cadillac wouldn't lie about sales figures, would they? They would, and they did.
Four months later, in May 1999, Cadillac admitted that it had reported factory sales to dealers, not dealer sales to customers. Cadillac apologized to Lincoln.
You may e-mail John K. Teahen Jr. at [email protected]