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2003 – Expectations and Oddities

It was a year full of ups and downs for the automotive industry.

Porsche sales are up 33 percent on the strength of sales of its Cayenne SUV.
As expected, 2003 car sales in the United States were down 6 percent, trucks were up 3, and although trucks are now 55 percent of the market, they were not quite strong enough to make 2003 a break-even year. The end result, total industry sales, including heavies, came in at 16,964,200, down a thin 1 percent.

For the full year, most major overseas-based corporations gained a few points, thus meeting expectations while the two major U.S.-based corporations slipped a bit (many people seem to miss the point, but DCX is a German corporation that also lost a few U.S. market share points in 2003).

There were, however, many oddities and contradictions. One oddity was that despite the halo effect of Korean vehicles, sales of Korean cars were at – 10 percent, softer than the overall car industry decline as Daewoo dissolved. Another often misunderstood concept is that sales of Japanese-brand cars fell 3 percent in 2003.

Another unexpected deviation from general thought patterns came from Chevrolet. Chevrolet cars gained 6 percent while trucks were down 2 percent.

New vehicles help, particularly if they are SUVs. Porsche cars fell 27 percent, but total Porsche sales were up 33 percent, pushed by the new Cayenne SUV, a vehicle pulling in one- half of all Porsche sales in recent months. There is an indication that monied people buy names, not products.

Toyota experienced a shift in fuel economy. Echo (above) lost 4,692 buyers while Prius (below) gained 4,508.

Not all Japanese brands were on the up tick: Isuzu was off 34 points, Mitsubishi came in at – 25 and Suzuki dropped 14 points. Some small vehicles found additional buyers, some didn’t. Focus off 6 percent, Escape up 15. A pair of small cuties parted ways: Beetle up 15 percent, PT Cruiser down 22.

Moving in different price and performance leagues were Viper, up 39 points and Neon, falling five points.

Nissan’s two smallest vehicles both slipped: Sentra lost 11 points, Xterrra lost 15. Two new and pricier vehicles, Murano and 350Z, were well received.

Some large cars traveled in differing directions: Mercury Grand Marquis, up 8 percent, Toyota Avalon, down 26 percent.

The small Jeeps diverged: Wrangler found 9 percent more buyers, Liberty lost 5 percent from last year’s level.

Lincoln SUVs, pushed by the mediadistained Aviator, moved up 93 percent. Mercedes SUVs, well liked by the media, fell 25 percent.

Thankfully, electric vehicles, those green-glorified absorbers of many, many millions of R&D dollars, are dying out. Hybrids, less battery-weight and batteryreplacement- cost scary than pure electrics, but still a used-vehicle owner’s technical and cost nightmare, are today’s green darlings. Maybe they are somewhat more right than wrong this time.

Toyota’s fuel-economy pair were a balanced act. Echo lost 4,692 buyers, Prius gained 4,508.

Chevrolet’s bargain leader, the Cavalier, was up 8 percent, the high-line Corvette fell 14 percent. Both are on the re-do list. Fresh air sells: Sebring convertibles, up 13 points, Sebring sedans, off 25.

Prestige cars zigged and zagged: Infinity cars, up 35 percent, Lexus cars fell 15 percent. Ford’s Europeans went in differing directions. Volvo up 22 percent, Jaguar down 11 percent. Volvo’s SUVs made the different. Lincoln’s bit units followed industry patterns, Navigators were up 27 percent, Town Cars fell 5 percent.

New products help, regardless of price. Jaguar’s new XJ found a home in 22 percent more garages, the older S-Type missed the year-ago target by seven percent.

The small and economical basic-car segment lost 3 percent from last year while the more costly prestige small-car segment attracted 11 percent additional buyers. Large doesn’t solve all problems: largepickup segment, up 5 percent, large-car segment, down 10 percent.

Within the family, size doesn’t always matter – Mini, up 46 points, BMW 7-Series, down seven points.

High prices do not hurt. The less-expensive small-sporty cars experienced a 24 point downturn while higher-priced prestige sporty cars gain 18 points.

Tacking a prestige name and SUV nomenclature on some mid-priced vehicles is a winning marketing ploy. Mid-size prestige SUVs topped year-ago by 52 percent, while mid-size (mommie) vans experienced a 5 percent stumble.

BMW products ran counter to trend; cars up 6 percent, SUVs, down 5 percent. Troubled Mitsubishi, -25 points. Rebuilding Subaru, up three points.

The home-field advantage goes to Honda products: imported Civics, up 30 percent, local Civics, down 8 percent. Imported Accords, up 6 percent, local Accords, down 2 percent.

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