It's no surprise that 2009 U.S. auto sales plunged or that the Ford brand passed No. 2 Chevrolet, but other races are too close to call until December sales are reported tomorrow.
Such as whether upstart Korean automaker Hyundai-Kia can oust Nissan North America from the big six of U.S. sales. Through 11 months, the Nissan and Infiniti brands led Hyundai-Kia 696,699 to 680,282.
Closing a gap of more than 16,000 units in a single month is a challenge. But the margin in 2008 was more than a quarter of a million sales, so the Koreans have been gaining on Nissan by an average of 23,000 a month all year.
And the margin is much tighter -- 511 units -- between the No. 11 Subaru and No. 12 Volkswagen brands. With both likely to sell more than 200,000 vehicles for the full year, December's results will determine the winner.
Ditto on other races. Acura moved ahead of Cadillac in the first 11 months, but the Japanese luxury brand leads by only 801 units. In contrast, Lincoln passed Infiniti and is running 399 units ahead.
December sales also will settle cliffhangers among individual nameplates. The 11-month gap between the Toyota Corolla/Matrix and the Honda Accord is only 836 units out of volume of a quarter-million each. That's after the Corolla outsold the Accord by 4,660 in November.
The battle of muscle cars
Then there's the muscle-car race between the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro. The Mustang's perennial segment crown looks safe enough with a 6,000-unit lead through 11 months: 60,096 to 54,100 for the Camaro. But since being reintroduced in the spring, the Camaro has outsold the Mustang most months. In November, the Camaro gained 3,240 in sales.
Changes at the top of the table are largely locked in after 11 months.
On the group level, American Honda Motor Co. has overtaken Chrysler Group for fourth place behind General Motors Co., Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. and Ford Motor Co. After finishing 2008 only slightly behind Chrysler, American Honda's 11-month lead over the smallest of the Detroit 3 is almost 200,000 units.
Ford passes Chevy
On the brand level, a resurgent Ford passed struggling Chevrolet to capture the No. 2 spot and now is closer to the No. 1 Toyota brand than it is to Chevrolet.
Analysts expect 2009 industry sales to finish at 10.3 million units after reaching 9.4 million through 11 months. That is 24 percent lower than the same period of 2008, which itself was a poor year.
Unless December sales are unexpectedly strong, 2009 will wind up more than 7 million light vehicles down from a decade earlier, the U.S. market's best year on record at 17.4 million.