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O.C.-Based Auto Importers Post Slight Sales Drop

January 05, 1991|JOHN O'DELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Led by strong sales of Mazda and Mitsubishi cars and trucks, the five auto importers headquartered in Orange County outperformed the industry as a whole in 1990, according to reports issued Friday.

While the Big Three domestic auto makers posted a collective 6.8% sales decline and all domestic and import car and light truck sales combined are expected to be off almost 4% for the year, Orange County's second-tier importers saw total sales dip only 1.1%.

Most of that decline came from Hyundai Motor America, the South Korean auto maker's U.S. marketing arm headquartered in Fountain Valley.

Hyundai's nationwide sales of 137,448 cars represented a 25% drop from 1989's total of 183,261 sales.

The year's strongest performance among the second-tier companies came from Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America, headquartered in Cypress.

Mitsubishi's 1990 sales jumped 26.8% to 190,730 cars and trucks from 150,476 vehicles in 1989.

The company said December sales included 672 of its new 3000GT, a 196-horsepower high-technology sports car introduced in October but in such scarce supply that it is selling for 10% to 20% more than its roughly $31,000 suggested retail price.

Mazda Motor of America reported its best year ever for passenger car sales and its second-best year for combined car and truck sales. The company's total 1990 sales of 349,677 units was up 2.3% from 341,917 cars and trucks in 1989.

American Suzuki Motor Corp. in Brea reported sales of 20,504 vehicles, down 32% from 30,181 sales in 1989.

The company, which manufactures the Suzuki Sidekick and Samurai utility vehicles, has been in a sales slump since late 1988, when Consumer Reports magazine issued a blistering review criticizing the safety of the Samurai.

The federal government later said its own tests failed to support the magazine's allegation that the Samurai was more prone to tipping over in a sharp turn than any of the other jeep-like utility vehicles on the market. But by then consumers had turned away from the company's products.

Daihatsu America, the smallest of the county's auto importers, was unable to counter the general market slump but did see sales jump in the last quarter. The company said Friday that it sold 14,984 cars in the United States in 1990, down a scant 0.9% from 15,118 cars in 1989.

MAZDA, MITSUBISHI SET SALES RECORDS In a depressing year for car sales, two of Orange County's five auto importers, Mazda and Mitsubishi, set sales records.

TOTAL SALES % Change IMPORTER 1988 1989 1990 Mazda Motor of America 349,337 341,917 349,677 Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America 113,491 150,476 190,730 Hyundai Motor America 264,282 183,261 137,448 American Suzuki Motor Corp. 57,851 30,181 20,504 Daihatsu America 11,460 15,118 14,984

IMPORTER 1989-90 Mazda Motor of America +2.27% Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America +26.75% Hyundai Motor America -25.00% American Suzuki Motor Corp. -32.06% Daihatsu America -0.89%

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