In 2007, the massive reordering of car companies in America has come to pass.
Take a good look at the industry's nine-month numbers and prepare to be astonished. What you'll find is a U.S. auto market that has morphed into something almost unrecognizable — with massive transformation among leading automakers.
Toyota's explosive march to the top has suddenly left Ford in the dust. Cadillac has passed Buick. Lexus, leading a huge movement toward import luxury, is creeping up on even the mass-market Pontiac in unit sales.
It is a new order, with new leaders and losers.
Everywhere you look, some milestone has been passed, some barrier broken; something unthinkable has become inevitable. And the revolution continues. Not only is it possible that Toyota Motor Corp. will pass General Motors to become No. 1 in the United States — it is probable within four years.
The industry has entered an era of sweeping, historic and possibly irreversible change. Century-old brands are dying. New leaders are emerging.
Consider some of what has happened this year:
n Not only is the Toyota brand the leader in car sales; it is the undisputed king of car sales by a massive margin.
n Ford Motor Co.'s sales and market share are collapsing at a dramatic rate. Chevrolet and Toyota have sped by Ford in the race for the divisional sales crown.
n Toyota Motor Sales' meteoric rise overshadows the success of American Honda, which quietly and relentlessly has gained market share this decade, has become No. 3 in car sales and is on the verge of reaching 10 percent of the U.S. light-vehicle market.
n Import luxury brands (but not those owned by Detroit companies) are gobbling up market share. Within a few years, Lexus will probably eclipse the best sales year Cadillac ever had.
And once-strong mainstream domestic brands such as Mercury and Buick have spiraled downward. Although Cadillac is down this year, GM's luxury brand has passed its near-luxury sister division. Lincoln sales are approaching Mercury's collapsing number.
Last year, Toyota Motor passed GM as the world's largest automaker. GM reigns supreme in the U.S. market. But if current trends keep up, Toyota could wrest away the No. 1 spot in the United States by 2011.
And Toyota's ascendancy will happen even faster on the retail side. The Japanese juggernaut slashed the retail sales gap with GM by 40 percent during the first eight months of 2007, according to registration data from R.L. Polk & Co. GM's retail advantage dropped from 487,235 vehicles for that period last year to 282,677 vehicles this year.
Toyota Division is not likely to grab the U.S. retail crown in 2008, but that could happen in 2009.
Bob Carter, Toyota Division general manager, says the company will maintain its sales growth by winning more business in the segments where it already plays.
"We don't really follow the other guys, but we'll kill ourselves to hit our own sales plan," Carter said. "If you take fleet out, Toyota (Division) probably already outsells Chevy."