If you remember Bud Abbott and Lou Costello (he was the short, round one), you surely remember their immortal "Who's on first?" routine.
Let's play a variation of that skit. It won't be as funny, but it will show you who's doing what in sales of new cars and light trucks.
First of all, the full picture. After eight months, U.S. sales of new light vehicles were up 15 percent to 9,711,238 units from 8,465,266 in the same period last year. But don't pull out your dancing shoes: 2011 was a bummer; only 12.8 million for the entire year, down 21 percent from 2007, the last normal year of 16 million or so sales.
But things are improving. Remember 2009, when the industry grunted and strained to reach 10.4 million units sold?
For eight months of this year, car sales climbed to 5,095,073 units, a gain of 18 percent over last year. The Detroit 3 had just 31 percent of that market. Can you believe that? Detroit iron accounted for less than one in three car sales. Import-badged brands had 69 percent.
Now for the who's on first stuff. In the small-car segment, the Honda Civic was the king with sales of 212,483 units, followed by the Toyota Corolla-Matrix with 199,677 sales, the Ford Focus with 166,950 and the Chevrolet Cruze with 154,813.
Toyota won't break out the Corolla and Matrix. If it did, the Focus might well be the No. 2 small car.
Nothing has changed in the mid-range class. The Toyota Camry, at 280,536, led by a wide margin. The Honda Accord was second with 218,665, followed by the Nissan Altima with 209,952 and the Ford Fusion with 181,865.
The mid-rangers were the nation's best-sellers with sales of 2,681,908 for eight months.
Tops in the near-luxury group (roughly $30,000-$45,000) was the BMW 3 series at 60,621 with the Mercedes-Benz C class second at 49,868 and the Infiniti G at 42,375. The Cadillac CTS (35,362) was fourth and was the best of the American makes.
The Mercedes E class, at 39,970, was the runaway winner among luxury cars, and second place went to the BMW 5 series at 35,139. The Lexus GS was a distant third with 14,563.
The touring class was tight, tight, tight. The Chevrolet Camaro led the Ford Mustang by 916 sales, 63,298 to 62,382. Third place was even closer: The Dodge Challenger, 30,393; the Mini Cooper S, 30,289.
60% for Detroit 3
On to the truck side. Light trucks had a 12 percent sales gain for the first eight months, while cars had an 18 percent upturn. Market share was a different story. While the Detroit 3 had to accept a scant 31 percent of car sales, they had a commanding 60 percent of light-truck sales.
Who's on first? In the pickup market, it was the Detroit 3 by a mile -- the Ford F series, 408,656; the Chevy Silverado, 261,775; the Ram, 187,620; and the GMC Sierra, 98,545. The fifth-place Toyota Tundra, the leading import, had 65,634 sales, about one-third as many as the Dodge Ram. The Ford F series is the nation's best-selling vehicle and has been for as long as most folks can remember.
Minivan sales are leaping back with a 17 percent increase this year. For eight months, the Dodge Grand Caravan (94,639) led the reduced segment -- only 10 competitors with General Motors sitting it out and Ford with only a single player.
In second place was the Honda Odyssey with 86,459. The Toyota Sienna (78,285) and Chrysler Town & Country (77,362) battled for third.
SUVs ain't dead yet
The nation's best-selling light trucks are crossovers with sales of 2,120,018 for eight months. It's the industry's most populous market class with 53 entries. It seems like everybody wants to get into the act with a least one nameplate. Ford has four, and Jeep has two.
The top seller was the Honda CR-V with 191,113 for eight months. Ford's Escape took second place with 176,927, and Chevrolet's Equinox was third with 151,027.
Among the more expensive models, the Lexus RX (60,002) was king. With a wholesale price of about $37,000, it brings a lot of dollars to Toyota Motor Sales and its Lexus dealers.
The SUV segment, once thought to be KO'd by $4-a-gallon gasoline, is doing quite well, thank you. Sales are up only 4 percent this year, but they reached 678,904 for eight months.
Topping the sales chart were the Jeep Grand Cherokee at 99,536 and the Jeep Wrangler at 96,380. The Jeep Liberty was third with 58,028.
That leaves the alternative-power segment, a one-horse race if there ever was one. And the one horse was the Toyota Prius with 164,408 sales, which is 12 times as many as the second-place Chevrolet Volt (13,497) and 13 times as many as Lexus CT with 12,417.
You may e-mail John K. Teahen Jr. at [email protected]