Mercifully, it ended. 2011, that is. It was another very subpar year for sales of new cars and light trucks in the United States, the fourth such year in succession.
Sales of 12,778,885 were 20 percent below the 16-million standard established in 1999-2007, the nine good years. Actually, they were 24 percent below the average for those nine years.
Some "experts" now are hedging their bets, saying that 16 million should not be used as the standard because sales are not going to return to that level. They suggest 14 million to 15 million.
I disagree. I'm sticking with 16 million as the norm. We last reached that total in 2007 with 16.2 million. So last year's sales were 21 percent below par. That's great for Tiger Woods; it ain't so great for cars and trucks.
The consumer media have been crowing about the fact that 2011 sales were up 10.3 percent. My question is, 10.3 percent from what?
The answer: 10.3 percent over the second-worst year since 1982. That's 29 years. The worst year in that span was 2009. Sales were 11.59 million in 2010 and 10.43 million in 2009.
Viewed in that light, a 10.3 percent gain is pretty puny. It's better than a 10.3 percent decline, but it's hardly a cause for celebration.
One segment of the industry did have a little reason to rejoice. That was the Detroit 2plus. It's hard to call them the Detroit 3 since Fiat owns nearly 59 percent of Chrysler and plans to acquire more. Fiat is based in Turin, Italy, and Turin is several states, an ocean and a few nations removed from Detroit.
When you include only their domestic brands, each of the Detroit automakers outperformed the market, Ford just barely with an 11 percent upturn. Mercury is no longer a part of the Ford Motor household, leaving just Ford and Lincoln, which is working desperately to reinvent itself as a true luxury brand.
General Motors' four survivors posted an increase of 13 percent. That was just below the gain -- 14 percent -- for Buick and Chevrolet; GMC was up 19 percent. Cadillac advanced just 4 percent, a gain of only 5,464 units.
The three Detroiters reported sales of 5,996,243 new cars and light trucks for 2011, an increase of 15 percent over 2010. In 2007, the industry's last normal year, their total was 8,253,507. The 2011 figure represents a four-year drop of 2,257,264 units, or 27 percent.
Chrysler up 24 pct.
Chrysler Group could sit back and laugh at its rivals' efforts. Chrysler's 2011 sales sported a gain of 24 percent over 2010. Jeep was the prime mover with an upsurge of 44 percent, and Grand Cherokee, up 51 percent, was the Jeep hero. Elsewhere the group had increases of 19 percent for Dodge-Ram and 12 percent for Chrysler.
Sales of import-badged cars and trucks were up 7 percent last year, but their market share slipped because the overall market did better than that. The import share was 53.1 percent; the Detroiters had 46.9. Naturally, the Detroiters picked up what the imports lost.
The battle for brand supremacy was hardly a battle. Ford, with 2,057,210 sales, drubbed Chevrolet by 281,408.
By countries, sales of American makes were up 15 percent, as noted. The Europeans and the Koreans did even better -- gains of 20 percent for Europe and 27 percent for Korea.