In 2008, sales of new cars and light trucks in the United States dropped 2.9 million units. Thats more new vehicles than were sold in this country in any year prior to 1923.
And this year the smart money says maybe 9.5 million sales. Wow, another 3.7 million down the drain; 6.6 million in two years. Those are (or will be) two of the three biggest year-to-year declines in the history of the automobile in this country.
In second place is 1974, when the Arab oil embargo chopped nearly 3 million deliveries off the strong 1973 total.
When will the situation improve? Ask 10 people and get 10 different answers; ask 100 and get 100. Nobody knows.
Chryslers timetable calls for 13.7 million sales in 2016. General Motors is more optimistic: 13 million in 2011 or 2012.
Actually, 13 million is a pretty good goal for our beaten and bloody industry, even if its not the 16 million-plus that spoiled us from 1999 through 2007.
There are, of course, the disquieting questions of how many of the Detroit 3 will be on hand to share in the next 13 million year and how many of their brands will survive.
GM and Chrysler are already at the public trough and will need billions more from the feds to survive. Ford is in better shape but will its cash last until sales head upward?
GM already has designated two domestic brands for the Dumpster (Hummer and Saturn) and said it will reduce another (Pontiac) to a niche brand. Neither Ford nor Chrysler has spoken, but Chrysler has trimmed several models (Dodge Durango and Chrysler Pacifica and Aspen), and a look at the sales numbers gives you a good idea where Ford is headed: Mercury just isnt hacking it.
A federal task force is studying the auto industry, and so far its a case of tough love. The industrys past mistakes -- and, heaven knows, there have been plenty -- are being trotted out again for all the industrys foes to glory in.
The imports are not immune to failure. If the sales famine drags on and on, some of them will pick up their toys and go home.
The United States will always live by the automobile; the question is: What names will those cars wear? Will they be the venerable Ford, Chevrolet, Buick and Dodge? Or will they be tagged Toyota, Honda, Volkswagen and Hyundai?
Toyota by a mile
It used to be that the annual Chevrolet-Ford race commanded attention as the tussle for brand sales supremacy in the United States.
Not anymore. Today Toyota is far ahead of the domestic kingpins. In the first two months of this year Toyota sold 191,417 new cars and trucks. Second-place Ford was panting in the dust at 162,929, and Chevy was far behind at 151,669.
Ever wonder about the rest of the pack? Here are the other members of the Top 10 after two months: Honda was fourth, followed by Nissan, Dodge, Hyundai, Kia, Jeep and GMC.
I saw a strange Toyota commercial a few days ago. After the sales pitch, the voiceover intoned, Ask someone you know who drives one.
Merciful heavens, Toyota, dont you realize that that is almost a word-for-word copy of one of the greatest auto advertising slogans of all time, Packards immortal Ask the man who owns one?
The slogan was first used in 1901 by Ohio Automobile Co., manufacturer of the Packard car. I dont think Im exaggerating when I credit that line for putting Packard on the automotive map.
Remember, Packard was the nations best-selling luxury car from 1924 to 1949.
And Ask the man will live as long as automobiles are made and sold. It ranks with The Penalty of Leadership, Cadillacs look at the problems of being -- well, being Cadillac; Watch the Fords go by, the companys lighthearted look at its sales successes; and Look at all three, the 1932 ad that put Plymouth in the low-priced three, with Ford and Chevrolet.
Yes, Ask the man who owns one is immortal. I cannot say as much for Toyotas copy.