The Detroit automakers' share of the US market dropped below 50 percent last month for the first time in history, according to two analysts who track industry numbers.
Jesse Toprak, senior analyst for the Edmunds.com automotive Web site, and Jeff Schuster, executive director of global forecasting for J.D. Power and Associates, each said that foreign-based automakers took more than half the US market for the first time, citing sales data released by the companies on Wednesday.
Autodata Corp, an industry sales tracking company, pegged the market share controlled by Chrysler Group, Ford Motor Co and General Motors Corp (GM) at 49.5 percent, including foreign nameplates they own such as Saab, Volvo, Land Rover and Jaguar.
Excluding the Detroit makers foreign nameplates, Detroit's market share drops to 48.1 percent, Autodata said.
The market share drop came during a month in which all major automakers but Nissan Motor Co saw sales declines.
GM sales dropped 22.3 percent when compared to a strong July of last year, while Ford declined 19.1 percent and Chrysler fell 8.4 percent. Even Toyota Motor Corp, which had been posting strong gains most of the year, reported a decline of 7.4 percent after a record-setting July of last year.
The fact that foreign nameplates now control more than half the US market will mean little to the average consumer, but it likely will damage the psyche of Detroit's automakers, Toprak said.
"It's probably a turning point for people who look at the record books. Domestics on their home turf are being beaten by the foreign automakers in terms of their market share," he said.
But George Pipas, Ford's top sales analyst, said the drop does not mean much to anyone since the Detroit Three have been below a 50 percent share of retail sales before. Retail sales do not include sales to rental car companies and fleet buyers.
Erich Merkle, vice president of forecasting for auto consulting company IRN Inc in Grand Rapids, said the Detroit Three are much more dependent on trucks, which are faltering as housing starts drop. Trucks represent around 30 percent of the vehicle mix for Ford and GM, Merkle said.
Analysts attributed the overall auto market dip last month to high gasoline prices, declining home values, higher payments on adjustable rate mortgages and reluctant consumers.
Toyota sold more vehicles than Ford last month. Its truck sales were flat thanks in part to heavy incentives, but its car sales fell 11.8 percent.
GM, still the biggest carmaker in the US, said overall sales were down 9.4 percent for the year.