US:Ford brand tops Chevrolet, by just a bit
SALES: Ford brand tops Chevrolet, by just a bit
BY JAMIE BUTTERS and JEFFREY McCRACKEN
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITERS
Auto sales rose for the first time in four years in 2004 -- though not by much.
The Ford brand outsold Chevrolet once again, although by a very narrow margin. Ford's full-size pickups were the best-selling trucks, and the Toyota Camry the best-selling car. But Chevrolet, loaded with new models, passed Toyota to sell the most cars.
Americans bought 16.9 million cars and light trucks -- vans, pickups and SUVs -- last year, up from 16.7 million in 2003. They bought 111,000 more vehicles last month than in December 2003, providing about half of the year's gain.
Such modest growth -- after three years of declining industry sales -- might not be much to crow about. But Jim Press, the No. 2 executive in Toyota's U.S. sales operations, said the industry still has reason to be proud.
"When you think about the disasters, the war, the distraction of the election and all these things that went on, that's positive for the total industry" to meet expectations, he said.
Here are the highlights of the year's final auto sales numbers released Tuesday:
Ford vs. Chevy: In Michigan, Ford Motor Co.'s mainstay Ford division held its place as the nation's top-selling brand, edging out Chevrolet by less than 19,000 cars and trucks.
Chevrolet outsold Ford in December by 16,000 vehicles, but Ford held on with 2.77 million sales, against 2.75 million Chevrolets.
"It was a very close race down to the end," said Ford Division President Steve Lyons. He credits the result to 16 straight months of increasing F-Series sales, a new Mustang that started strong out of the gate and growing availability of its Chicago-made Five Hundred sedan. But he said Ford sales were hurt because it sold fewer cars and trucks to rental car companies -- cut-rate deals that generate little profit.
Car sales: Chevrolet car sales rose 15 percent for the year, posting its best year since 1997, with 917,887 cars sold.
The newly introduced Cobalt, along with the Korean-made Aveo, a full year of the new Malibu and an all-new Corvette combined to make Chevy the top-selling car brand.
Toyota reported 965,091 cars sold by its Toyota Division, but that includes sales of nearly 100,000 cars with the Scion badge -- Toyota's youth-oriented brand. In these instances, Toyota executives tend to refer to Scion as a marque, rather than a true brand, because Scions are sold from selected Toyota dealerships. But most people see it as a separate brand.
Take away the 99,259 Scions and Toyota finishes with 865,832.
New car models, such as the redesigned Mustang and new Five Hundred, even helped Ford sell more cars than it did a year earlier for the first time since January 2003.
Best-selling truck: Ford's F-Series pickups claimed a 23rd straight year as the nation's top-selling vehicle, with a record 939,511. The previous record was 911,597 in 2001.
Ford combines the sales of its F-150 light-duty pickup with the F-250 SuperDuty and other larger models all under the F-Series name.
General Motors Corp. makes full-size pickups under multiple brands and models. All told, GM sold more full-size pickups than Ford or anyone else, said Paul Ballew, GM's executive director of industry and market analysis.
"We won the truck race," he said. "We won the full-size pickup truck race by a wide margin."
He acknowledged that race will be a tough one for GM to continue to win in 2005 because its most popular pickups, like the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra, are getting old, having been introduced in 1998 and 1999.
"We are in the back end of the life cycle of our full-size pickups and sport utilities, so we are getting off from our peak years with them in 2002 and 2003, but still much better than in 1999 when we introduced these," Ballew said.
Best-selling car: The Camry came in as the top-selling car for the seventh time in the last eight years. Toyota dealers sold 426,990, up 3 percent, for the year. Honda's Accord midsize car finished second with 386,770, down 2.8 percent from 2003.
Top luxury brand: Lexus was the top-selling luxury brand for the fifth straight year, with a 10.5-percent increase to 287,927.
BMW finished second among luxury brands with 260,079, followed by Cadillac (234,217) and Mercedes-Benz (221,366).
But there was some good news for DaimlerChrysler AG's luxury division. Americans bought 26,607 cars and SUVs in December, more than any month in the 40 years Mercedes has operated in the United States. As a result, it topped 2003 sales by less than 3,000 vehicles.
Big growth: Nissan put up the biggest percentage sales gain of any major automaker, topping 2003 sales by 24 percent.
Americans bought just shy of 1 million Nissans and Infinitis last year, up from almost 800,000 in 2003.
Jed Connelly, senior vice president of Nissan's U.S. sales operations, said he is most proud that the sales of the redesigned Altima jumped 17 percent and that the Titan full-size pickup is now selling at the 8,000-per-month pace the company had expected.
"When your bread-and-butter car is doing very well and your new big challenging vehicle in a very established segment does well, I think you've got to feel pretty good," he said.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....