As the U.S. auto industry digested the July sales figures last week, one warning became abundantly clear: Don't pay too much attention to those numbers. Just about everything you could say about July sales had to be followed by a "Yes, but ..."
The traditional Big 3's vehicle sales were down 29.6 percent. Yes, but last year all three automakers were giving cars away to everyone at employee prices. This year, only the Chrysler group did so.
For the industry as a whole in July, light-truck sales plunged 30.2 percent. Yes, but truck sales in July 2005 topped 1 million. You can't expect that two years in a row.
On one point, the "Yes, but ..." defense won't work. Gasoline costs $3 or more a gallon. Gasoline is going to stay at $3 a gallon. If you can't sell big pickups and big SUVs in that heat, you'd better get out of the kitchen.
As always, questions abound when sales are tabulated. Here are some of them.
How did the Chrysler group do with employee pricing in July?
It was a colossal flop. Sales were down 37.4 percent from last year, when employee pricing also was the order of the day.
The group's three brands shared the disaster about equally: Chrysler and Dodge were down 37.7 percent each, and Jeep was off 36.3 percent. The Chrysler group will continue employee pricing for August.
What happened to market share?
As expected, the Detroit 3 took a bath in July. Ford lost 4.1 points, the Chrysler group lost 3.2 points, and General Motors lost 1.7 points. The big winners were Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., up 4.2 points, and American Honda Motor Co., up 2.2 points.
So the Detroit 3 accounted for 52.0 percent of the July market, their lowest total ever. The seven-month figures weren't good, either: 54.5 percent, off 4.3 points from 2005.
Years from now, folks will remember this July as the month in which Toyota Motor Sales outsold Ford Motor for the first time. Toyota, Lexus and Scion beat Ford's domestic brands by 17,696 units.
Another star performer last month was American Honda, which outsold the Chrysler group for the first time. Ranked according to sales, July's Big 5 were General Motors, Toyota, Ford, Honda and the Chrysler group. So the traditional Big 3 became the Not-So-Big 1-3-5.
Just how bad were July sales?
Not all that bad when you exclude the unreal 2005 total. This July's count of 1,493,329 was just short of the much-desired monthly tally of 1.5 million. This July's total was down 4.0 percent from 2004, down 1.3 percent from 2003 and down 2.0 percent from 2002.
July sales of import-brand cars and trucks were up 1.7 percent over last year. As noted, the domestic marques of the Detroit 3 were in a free fall, down 29.6 percent.
Are the new tiny cars shaping up?
Call them minicars, subsubcompacts, kiddie cars, whatever. The line that Americans won't buy itty-bitty autos doesn't hold water. Americans scooped up 16,128 of the newest types last month - the Honda Fit, the Toyota Yaris and the Nissan Versa.
Add sales of 3,528 BMW Minis, 6,552 Chevrolet Aveos and 3,858 Kia Rios, and you have a nice niche market.
Are cars catching trucks?
Cars are taking the high road, and trucks are taking the low road, and it looks as if they will meet head-on in a few months. Cars outsold trucks in July, as they did in January, April and May, but trucks led by 59,779 sales after seven months. At this time last year, trucks led by 872,275.
For the full year, cars haven't outsold trucks since 2001.
You may e-mail John K. Teahen Jr. at [email protected]