US auto sales crashed again last month as the industry posted its worst year since 1992 and Detroit’s Big Three automakers saw their annual market share slip beneath 50 percent for the first time, industry data showed on Monday.
Chrysler led the way in losses with a 53 percent monthly drop and Toyota, Honda, General Motors (GM) and Ford posted drops of between 31 percent and 37 percent.
Total industry sales fell 36 percent last month to 896,124, which helped drag last year’s sales down 18 percent to 13.2 million vehicles, Autodata said. GM, Ford and Chrysler saw their combined market share fall to just 47.6 percent from 51.1 percent in 2007 just days after the Treasury department finalized billions in loans to help prop up cash-strapped GM and Chrysler.
The Big Three’s US market share topped 60 percent as recently as 2004 and was 71.2 percent ten years ago, Ward’s Auto said.
High fuel prices pushed passenger cars sales beyond the 50 percent share mark for the first time since 2000 as truck, minivan and sport utility sales slipped to 48.8 percent of the US market from 53.1 percent in 2007.
Asian brands, led by Toyota and Honda, saw their market share increase 2.9 points to 44.6 percent last year, Autodata said.
European brands also posted gains despite lower sales, as their share rose by 0.6 points to 7.8 percent.
Tight credit and growing economic uncertainty has kept consumers away from showrooms for months and last month’s losses were expected to continue well into this year. GM slashed its North American production plans for the first quarter by 180,000 units to 420,000 vehicles — down about 53 percent from 2007.
The largest US automaker saw sales last month fall 31 percent to 221,983 vehicles while yearly sales were down 23 percent to just under 3 million vehicles.
Fears of a potential bankruptcy and bad press surrounding GM’s request for a massive government bailout did impact sales, said Mark LaNeve, vice president of GM’s North American vehicle sales, service and marketing. But GM still managed to grab a bigger piece of the US market — up 1.6 points to 24.4 percent last month and up 1.4 points to 23.5 percent for the year, Autodata said.
“That’s very encouraging despite some very extraordinary things happening in the market place and with our company,” LaNeve said in a conference call.
Chrysler’s share of the US market dropped 3.8 points to just 10 percent last month after sales plummeted by 53 percent to 89,813 vehicles. Its share for the year dropped 1.9 points to 11 percent after sales fell 30 percent to 2.1 million vehicles.
Chrysler attributed some of the losses to a significant reduction in low-margin fleet sales, which were down 63 percent last month and 31 percent for the year.
“Chrysler will continue to invest in quality and fuel efficiency improvements on its current lineup, while developing all-new vehicles for the next generation,” Chrysler president and vice chairman Jim Press said in a statement. “From an organizational viewpoint, we will work with all of our stakeholders to continue the restructuring of our company.”
Ford’s market share rose 0.9 points to 14.9 percent even as its sales fell 32 percent to 133,372 last month. Its share for the year, however, fell 0.4 points to 14.4 percent as sales dropped 20 percent to just under 2.4 million vehicles.