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Imports Keep Chipping at Big Three's Market Share

March 14, 2001|JOHN O'DELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Big Three got smaller in February.

The domestic car companies' market share shrank to less than 70% as imports continued to nibble away at their U.S. sales.

Although most analysts watch new-car sales figures--using them as a thermometer to take the nation's economic temperature--market share can be an equally important indicator, especially in a declining market such as the auto industry now is experiencing.

"The most important aspect of market share is that it sets the stage for future sales through customer loyalty," said Bob Schnorbus, director of economic analysis at automotive marketing consultant J.D. Power & Associates. "If you are gaining market share now, you are doing it at someone else's expense, and you are building a growing base of customers who will come back to you when they need another vehicle."

Market share, Schnorbus said, "also is an indicator of how strong your products are relative to the economic environment you are in. A strong product should be able to gain share even in a declining market."

That's bad news for Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler's U.S. operating unit--the Chrysler Group. All three have been losing market share for years, even dropping last year when new vehicle sales hit an all-time record of 17 million units.

Sales of cars and light trucks in the U.S. have slowed steadily since October, compared with same-month sales from the prior year. But if there is no further slackening of the pace, annual sales still could top 16 million vehicles, making 2001 the third-best year on record, analysts say.

Still, with total passenger vehicle sales down 6.7% for the first two months of this year, among importers only Volkswagen and Isuzu have seen their market shares decline. And while the domestic auto makers' share declines are measured in whole numbers, the two importers are off only a tenth of a point each.

"What we are seeing is that the market continues to drift toward import brands," said Michael Flynn, director of the University of Michigan's Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation. "The erosion, especially at GM, has been going on for some time . . . because it is a more competitive market. And when people have more choices, it is always the dominant players who suffer."

Especially vexing for the domestics is the growing presence of foreign brands in the lucrative sport-utility and large pickup truck markets. Until last year's introduction of the Toyota Tundra, the only large pickups sold in the U.S. were made by Ford, Dodge and GM.

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Chipping Away

Domestics still dominate the U.S. auto market but, as market shares at the end of February show, import brands continue to chip away.

U.S. market share (first two months)

*--*

Company 2001 2000 General Motors Corp.* 29.7% 30.2% Ford Motor Co.* 22.3 23.4 DaimlerChrysler* 15.4 16.5 Domestic total 67.4 70.1 Toyota Motor Sales USA 9.6 9.4 American Honda Motor Co. 7.0 5.9 Nissan North America 4.1 4.1 Volkswagen of America 2.2 2.3 Hyundai Motor America 1.9 1.2 Mitsubishi Motor Sales 1.8 1.7 Mazda North American Ops. 1.6 1.2 BMW of North America 1.2 1.0 Subaru of America 1.0 1.0 Kia Motors America 1.0 0.7 American Isuzu Motors 0.5 0.6 American Suzuki Motor Corp. 0.4 0.3 Daewoo Motor America 0.4 0.4 Porsche Cars of N. America 0.2 0.1 Foreign total 32.6 29.9

*--*

*Includes U.S. sales of wholly owned foreign brands.

Source: Autodata Corp.

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