Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Remember Cars? Sales Show Their "Death" Premature

2008 Mini Cooper hardtop

After years of lamenting the "death of the car" and the rise of the SUV and CUV, fans of the sedan are finally seeing things turn their way. Last month, for the first time in roughly 20 years, cars outsold trucks (Pick-ups, SUVs, CUVs and minivans).

It's the reason the Asian automakers collectively sold 44.7% of all vehicles last month. By comparison, the Big 3's market share fell to 47.5% from 53% last year. The rotation into smaller fuel efficient vehicles is in full bloom.

Just look at the car sales increases for April:


Mini up 39.4%
Nissan up 26.5%
Honda up 17.8%
Toyota up 16.2%
Hyundai up 12.9 %
Kia up 10.9 %

By comparison, the two biggest domestic car brands, Chevy and Ford also enjoyed increases, though not quite as much with Chevy up 9.5% and Ford up 7.3%.

The fact that Asian automakers are enjoying greater gains than the domestics in cars should not come as a surprise. The Asian automakers have had a broader base of selections than the domestics for several years. While Detroit concentrated on expanding and pushing SUVs and trucks, the Japanese and Korean automakers refreshed and expanded their line-ups of cars, while also trying to play catch up on the big rigs.

So what happens if the market continues to shift toward cars? Will the Asian automakers, who are already within 3% of passing the big three for total sales in the U.S., actually overtake Detroit? If gas prices continue rising over the next 4-6 months, it could happen.

But with more cars on the way in the fall and into next year, I think it's too early to write off Detroit. Also, the quality, style, and appeal of the domestic car has improved substantially and the Big 3 have a better shot at winning back customers. Take the Chevy Malibu (up 37.2% this year). It's red hot right now. The Pontiac G6 (up 22%) is also bringing in buyers. The Ford Focus (up 29% this year) is getting praised for being a stylish option for those who think only the Asians can make small cars you'd want to drive.

The car rotation is here. Don't be surprised if it lasts awhile. At long last, the "forgotten" car is getting its due.

Questions?  Comments?