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This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Thu, Jul 8, 2004

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

The top-selling vehicle for the first half of 2004.


Automotive sales continued at a strong pace in the first half of 2004.

Sales of new cars and trucks totaled 8,412,301, up 2.2 percent from the first six months of 2003.

Continuing a longstanding trend, car sales were down, 2 percent, while truck sales were up, more than 6 percent.

Here's a look at the numbers. And some of the trends behind the numbers.

Trucks take an increasing share of the US market market

Of all vehicles sold so far this year, 53.5 percent were trucks, up from 53.2 percent for calendar year 2003.

That may seem like a modest increase, but the shift toward trucks is unrelenting.

Since the introduction of Chrysler's minivans 20 years ago, when cars outsold trucks nearly three to one, trucks consistently have taken a larger share of the market, eventually outselling cars in 2002.

If current trends continue, with trucks adding about a point of share every year, trucks could make up 60 percent of new vehicle sales by the end of the decade.

What is a truck - and a truck brand - anyway?

Five brands sell trucks only: GMC, Jeep, Land Rover, Isuzu and Hummer.

But for six other brands, trucks account for more than 50 percent of sales:

Dodge 77.9%
Ford 72.5%
Chevrolet 67.0%
Scion 65.6%
Porsche 54.7%
Lexus 51.2%

But as truck sales rise, the distinctions between cars and trucks are blurring.

A few years ago, who would have envisioned Porsche or Lexus as a truck brand? But it may not make a difference, since many owners of Porsche Cayennes or Lexus RXs consider their vehicles cars, not trucks.

The same goes for owners of the Scion xB. It's boxy, but who thinks it's a truck?

By the way, Toyota and Nissan, at 48 percent and 45 percent truck sales respectively, likely will soon join the ranks of brands selling more trucks than cars.

Nissan's Xterra gets an Xtreme makeover for 2005

Sales of big, gas-guzzling trucks remain strong

Industry sales in June were off two percent, making it the worst June since 1997.

The primary reason: sales at General Motors were down 12 percent, and Ford sales were down nearly 8 percent.

Both sell large trucks in high volumes.

As a result, we saw headlines screaming, "Big trucks tumble" and "Buyers return to cars." High gas prices were cited as the reason.

But a month is too short a period to identify a trend, especially the reversal of an established trend.

At LA Car we take a long-term view.

Yes, sales of some big trucks were down last month. Hummer, for example, was off 15 percent, and its sales for the year are down 24 percent.

But we suspect the reason behind Hummer's decline is it's fallen out of fashion, not because of $2 per gallon gas.

In the auto industry, what sells is what's new. And the Hummer H2 is no longer new.

Hummer H2 - has it fallen out of fashion?

Contrary to what you might have heard, sales of big trucks are not in the toilet.

The Cadillac Escalade was up 20 perent in June, on the strength of the new Escalade ESV. This is clearly a gas hog, with estimated fuel economy of 13 miles per gallon in the city/17 miles per gallon on the highway.

Sales also were up in June for a few other big trucks, including the Chevy Tahoe, rated at 15/19, and GMC Yukon XL, rated at 14/18.

Because of their soft June sales, this week both GM and Ford increased incentives.

GM is offering $5,000 on most of its trucks.

Ford raised its incentives to $4,000 on some of its SUVs, including the four-door Explorer, and "zero financing" is available on most Ford cars and trucks.

We expect industry sales of large trucks in July to be up compared with June - and to remain strong for the rest of the year.

GM and Ford are not about to let those sales shrivel.

What sells is what's new

Buyers increasingly want what's new.

As a result, first- or second-year sales of a product often are the strongest.

This is especially true of luxury models and innovative designs.

Consider that the sales of every BMW model are down this year - except for the new 6 Series and X3, both of which are up from zero sales last year.

Every Jaguar model is down except for the new XJ ... every Audi model is down except for the new A8 ... every Buick except for the new Rainier ... every Mitsubishi except for the new Endeavor ... every Mazda except for the new Mazda3, Mazda6 and RX-8.

If a brand didn't introduce a new product, such as Lincoln and Saab, there was little to pull up its sales; both brands showed decreases for every model they carry.

Because what's new is what sells, we may be entering an era in which manufacturers launch more new vehicles, more often and in smaller numbers.

In other words, we could see a lot more niche products as automakers strive to keep their product lineups fresh.

So instead of trying to sell 400,000 models in a year - such as a Toyota Camry, Honda Accord or Ford Explorer - we might see manufacturers sell three or four different vehicles with a volume of 100,000 units each. Or fewer.

The $16,500 (as shown) Scion tC looks to be a strong niche player

That may be the strategy GM is employing with the Kappa platform it introduced at the beginning of the year, which will be used to produce distinct Pontiac, Chevrolet, Saturn and perhaps other models - two- and four-door models, sedans, coupes, station wagons and roadsters.

Taken to an extreme, manufacturers someday might produce one-of-a-kind or built-to-order models.

Come to think of it, that's somewhat of the approach being taken by Scion, with dealer add-ons allowing buyers to customize their vehicle with accessories such as a colored steering wheel and LED interior lights.

Look for this keep-it-fresh trend to accelerate, with product introductions occurring more often and increasing numbers of models on the market.

The Big Three share under 60 percent

A seemingly irreversible sales trend is the declining share of the Big Three.

For the 2003 calendar year, the US-based brands of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler Group accounted for 60.2 percent of industry sales.

That share has dropped to 59 percent for the first six months of 2004.

Share of Car Sales Share of Truck Sales Share of Industry
Big Three 44.2% 71.9% 59.0%
Japanese brands 38.2% 23.4% 30.3%
European brands 11.8% 2.2% 6.6%
Korean brands 5.8% 2.5% 4.0%

Car share for the Big Three has fallen to 44 percent, with Japanese brands claiming 38 percent.

The Big Three still dominate in truck sales, with 71.9 percent of the market. But that's down 1.8 percent from 73.7percent for the full year of 2003.

The Korean brands as a group sell more trucks in the US than all of the European brands combined.

We wonder soon Hyundai and Kia together will top all of the European brands in combined car and truck sales.

Nissan has a new Frontier and Pathfinder for 2005

Who's hot, who's not

On a percentage basis, the brands with biggest sales increases this year compared with the first half of last year:

Nissan + 27.8%
Suzuki + 24.1%
Acura + 18.9%
Porsche + 18.9%
Mazda + 18.2%
Chrysler + 17.1%
Lexus + 16.8%
Kia + 13.7%
Pontiac + 12.5%
Jeep + 12.5%

Nissan's 28 percent sales increase has been powered by its new trucks - the Titan, Quest and Armada - while sales of the Altima and Sentra sedans have remained strong.

Suzuki is still a bit player in the US, but the success of the all-new Forenza and Verona have led to a 24 percent rise in sales this year. Look for continued big increases from this small-car manufacturer as it launches a stream of new products over the next few years.

Acura is up 19 percent because of the success of two cars, the TL and TSX.

In contrast, Porsche's 19 percent increase comes solely from the continued success of its one truck, the Cayenne, which nearly doubled sales from last year.

Mazda's 18 percent improvement is due to a 30 percent surge in car sales with the success of the new Mazda3 and RX-8 and continued strength of the Mazda6. Truck sales for Mazda were down 17 percent.

The largest sales decreases of the year, again on a percentage basis:

Oldsmobile - 64.8%
Mitsubishi - 26.7%
Hummer - 24.4%
Saturn - 22.9%
Saab - 20.6%
Volkswagen - 13.4%
Lincoln - 10.8%
Isuzu - 10.7%
Land Rover - 10.2%
Audi - 7.6%

Oldsmobile's 65 percent sales decline is familiar to anyone who follows the auto industry, as it heads for the history books.

Mitsubishi is off 27 percent, as sales for all Mitsubishi models are down this year except for the Endeavor.

Hummer's 24 percent drop is due to the declining popularity of the H2, which accounts for 98 percent of Hummer sales.

Saturn is suffering from lack of product, so its 23 percent fall is no surprise. Sales of the Vue SUV are up 17 percent this year, but with only two cars lines - the Ion and the long-in-the-tooth L series - it's traveling a rough road.

Though Saab's sales are off 21 percent so far this year, look for the brand to bounce back with the recently introduced 9-2x and next spring's introduction of Saab's first SUV, the 9-7x.

The top-selling brands of 2004
Cars Trucks Total
Ford 387,853 1,024,222 1,412,075
Chevrolet 431,268 873,650 1,304,918
Toyota 432,900 402,344 835,244
Dodge 137,490 485,664 623,154
Honda 359,316 229,970 589,286
Nissan 226,910 183,565 410,475
Chrysler 175,399 111,199 286,598
GMC - 273,607 273,607
Pontiac 224,240 31,396 255,636
Jeep - 226,146 226,146
Hyundai 150,552 54,459 205,011
Buick 119,067 43,389 162,456
Mazda 100,670 39,866 140,536
Lexus 67,470 70,699 138,169

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