Sure, the auto industry is navigating new waters these days. But here's an uncharted inlet we'd didn't expect to find ourselves in — at least for a while.
In January, Japan's automakers came within a smidgen of topping the Detroit 3 in U.S. monthly sales for the first time. And they may get the job done in February.
The Japanese sold 278,366 vehicles in January, just 1,165 fewer than General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.
"It is very likely that the Japanese automakers will outsell domestic automakers in February," said analyst Jesse Toprak of Edmunds.com. "If the domestic automakers continue with their decision to cut fleet and rental sales into February, that may have the deciding impact."
Last year the Detroit 3 held 47.5 percent of the U.S. market (sliding under 50 percent of annual sales for the first time), while the Japanese stood at 39.5 percent.
In January, the Detroit 3 advantage was considerably narrower: 42.6 percent to 42.4 percent.
But Toprak figures the Detroit 3 will hang on to their lead for the full year.
"It's likely that they are not going to have this low of fleet and rental percentages for the rest of the year," he said. "I think at the end of the year you're going to see the domestics ahead of the Japanese, but not by very much."