And now lets look at the midrange car segment.
This is the second of four SalesTales columns presenting one mans opinion of what the Detroit 3 must do to claw their way back to respectability.
Last month, we looked at small cars, and I suggested that the domestic companies concentrate on luxury in a smaller package since, by their own admission, they are unable to make a buck on entry-level models.
That may change with the wage concessions agreed to by the UAW, but I still feel that the low end of the small-car field should be left to the imports.
Midrange cars seem to be the best bet for the Detroit 3 to move up the ladder. Its the best-selling segment of the U.S. market and, hey, it was invented by the then Big 3. Remember the Ford Fairlane and Mercury Meteor of 1962?
They were the first of the intermediates, bigger than a compact yet smaller than what were then considered standard-sized cars like the Chevrolet Impala and Ford Galaxie. The name intermediate was bestowed upon them by the late Bob Lienert, former editor of Automotive News.
The compact and standard-sized appellations have faded away, and the intermediates now are the midrange class.
The largest segment
The mid-sizers captured 55.8 percent of the U.S. car market in the first six months of this year, and they were the only market segment to top 1 million sales.
Ford Motor Co. and General Motors already are strong in that market with the Ford Fusion and Taurus and the Chevrolet Malibu and Impala. But they must get much stronger to bring their companies back. Maybe the Malibu and Impala could become one nameplate; they arent all that much different.
They could call it Impibu or Malala. Nah. Better stick to one of the existing names
Chrysler is weak in mid-sized cars, just as it is weak in every car and truck class except pickups and minivans.
For the first half of this year, the Fusion was second only to the F-series pickup on the Ford sales chart. The Impala and Malibu were just 2,858 sales apart and trailed only the Chevy Silverado pickup at GM. Chrysler is out of it. Is there a mid-sized Fiat in Chryslers future? And if so, when? And will Chrysler and its dealers be able to sell it at a profit for both?
Chryslers situation is precarious. It is almost totally without product in the best-selling segment of the market.
The Fusion, Malibu and Impala are far behind the Toyota Camry, Honda Civic and Accord and the Nissan Altima in the sales race. Theyll probably never catch the Japanese giants, but you dont have to be No. 1 to have mighty strong sales.
So whats the answer? More Ford and Chevy nameplates? Id vote no. I favor increased production and a truly massive marketing, advertising and word-of-mouth campaign for the Malibu, Impala, Fusion and the up-and-coming Taurus.
Those cars are every bit as good -- maybe better -- than the Japanese kingpins in quality, durability, comfort, fuel economy and performance, but, hey guys, you cant sell em unless people know you got em.
Who needs G8?
As for more nameplates, GM is considering saving the Pontiac G8 and rebranding it as a Chevrolet Caprice. Why? It didnt sell all that well as a Pontiac, why would it do better with a new badge? Chevy doesnt need it.
But the mid-sized class needs some weeding out, a lot of weeding out, in fact. In the first half of this year, 52 nameplates were on the books, some of which have already been phased out and a lot more that should be. Twenty-seven of the 52 (11 domestic and 16 foreign) lines had fewer than 15,000 sales in the January-June period. Off with their heads!
The sales breakdown for domestic and foreign brands in the first half of this year points once again to my pet indictment of the Detroit 3: They quit the car market for a decade and a half to concentrate on pickups and SUVs. Cars are back in style today, and the Detroiters are trying to catch up. But, boy, is it ever tough.
In the first six months of this year, foreign-badged cars accounted for 63.2 percent of the 1,437,660 midrange cars sold in this country. That left only 528,690 (36.8 percent) for the Detroit 3 models.
And remember, the mid-sized car segment is the largest car market in the United States.