Honda, Toyota, Fail More in December than Two of Three "Failed" US Carmakers

Car sales in December were–as expected–still way down as compared to last year. But as with November, there were some interesting numbers last month. Remember–these are year on year declines (which suggests the total market is down slightly less than it was in November):

Make      Decline

Chrysler   53%
Hyundai   48%
Toyota      37%
Honda      35%
Ford          32%
Nissan      31%
GM            31%
Daimler    25%
VW            14%
Subaru      7.7%

I’m still looking for Hyundai’s US numbers, and Chrysler (which I suspect really tanked) won’t announce until later in the day.

While GM and Ford still lost more sales across the year than Toyota and Honda (because they also tanked during the gas price crash of the summer), their performance against Toyota and Honda more recently demonstrates the degree to which recent sales are a credit driven issue, and not what Richard Shelby likes to claim is a failed business model. 

Moreover, there is better news for Ford in the numbers, as its market share is beginning to rise for the first time since 2001.

Ford took an optimistic view of December’s results, noting that its December market share rose to 14.6%, up 0.7 percentage point from a year ago — the first time since 1997 it had achieved a market share increase for three straight months.

"This is a strong ending to…a very challenging year," said marketing chief Jim Farley. Ford projected a fourth-quarter 15% market share for Ford, Lincoln and Mercury — beating the year-ago figure for the first time since 2001, it said.

I keep looking at these relative numbers because we’re basically looking at two questions in the auto market right now. First, who can survive in the next two years, as the market for cars remains at these contracted levels? Because of the debt the American companies have, the answer to that question is undoubtedly the Japanese car companies. But the other question is who can survive best over the next two years? The rules of the game have changed, and surviving best will be as much about managing inventories on a month to month basis as anything else. And Ford, at least, (which outperformed Toyota and Honda last month as well), looks like it is winning that game in the short term.

Particularly as more people realize that Ford is somehow "different" than GM and Chrysler (because it didn’t need a bailout), Ford has the opportunity to really turn its brand image around. If it continues to pick up market share during this recession, it may well succeed in doing that. 

Update: I’ve added Chrysler’s numbers (from breaking news at Reuters) which were–as I expected–utterly terrible. 

Update: Both the Prius and the Tundra had worse than average declines last month, with the Tundra down 52% and the Prius down 45%. This isn’t about gas prices anymore–it’s about money.

Update: Part of GM’s less-bad-than-forecast sales were due to the GMAC deal put together at the end of the month.

GM said its December sales were helped by a zero-interest financing offer that its GMAC finance unit was able to make during the last few days of the month after GMAC was granted status as a bank holding company by the Federal Reserve.

This allowed GMAC to access money from the federal government aimed at helping banks and Wall Street firms. GMAC had essentially run out of cash to make auto loans earlier in the fall.

Shockers!! BushCo actually managed to free up credit somewhere!! And the entity involved actually offered that credit!!!

Update: Added the Hyundai numbers, which were very crappy (which explains why they’re doing the offer where they’ll take your car back if you lose your job). Please note that Hyundai is another of those Alabama manufacturers that Richard Shelby likes to boast about. 

  1. bmaz says:

    Both the Prius and the Tundra had worse than average declines last month, with the Tundra down 52% and the Prius down 45%. This isn’t about gas prices anymore–it’s about money.

    Probably mostly true; however, Prius is undergoing a model changeover. Not certain, but that may be part of the effect.

  2. JTMinIA says:

    The part I don’t quite get (even if I’m delighted, since I’ve long been a fan of this company) is why Scooby is only down less than double digits.

    One can’t really point to global warming, given that Scooby specializes in AWD.

    Does anyone have an explanation?

    • emptywheel says:

      I suspect it’s a volume issue–all the smaller volume manufacturers are doing well.

      But I also think that between gas mileage from the summer and money now, people are making substitution choices for what they would have bought last year.

      In other words, someone who might have bought a SUV but won’t this year bc of cost and mileage may well turn to Scooby, because it has a safety feature (the AWD), but with good gas mileage and a relatively lower price point. It’s a better value, and fills the same functions their old SUV did.

      I think that’s ONE of the reasons for VW’s success (and they did relatively really well last month, too). Their diesels–particularly given exchange rates of late–end up being a much better value for those looking for efficient cars than a hybrid. Plus, their diesels are much more flexible than a Prius (in terms of size and body style). Finally, they have relatively less exposure to SUVs than the Japanese and the US–which means they’re doing better relatively as car sales climb.

      In other words, I think one of the problems is that vehicle purchases across segments are changing radically on a month to month basis. Some of the success and failure will depend on lucky guesses. Some of it will depend on product cycles (as bmaz suggested, Toyota got stuck at a VERY unlucky time with this crash, both with the Prius and the Tundra, and if they can’t regain market share when they do introduce their new models, they’ll be hurting seriously).

      BUt the big question for all of these is 1) who can figure out the new consumption patterns quickest and adjust inventory to meet it, and 2) who can get credit for their consumers.

  3. JTMinIA says:

    Thanks, ew.

    As to Toyota getting “stuck” with Tundras: how much of that comes from Toyota’s plan of getting involved in NASCAR (inc. truck racing) and banking (or not) on the increased sales to the sort of folks who only buy cars that they watch race?

  4. BoxTurtle says:

    I’m still betting that Chrysler doesn’t reopen at the end of the month. GM, in return for a bailout, will be forced to buy as much of Chrysler as they can swallow. I doubt that GM want’s anything other than Jeep and they don’t want that much.

    GM can’t support enough of Chrysler to make a difference.

    Boxturtle (BushCo has only about 300 hrs to cut a sweetheart deal with Cerberus)

  5. Teddy Partridge says:

    I think Prius sales were at a peak a year ago, so we’d likely see a decline due to lower gas prices now.

  6. randiego says:

    Still waiting for my Mea Culpa from Bob Corker. Think that’s coming anytime soon?

    The VW diesels are impressive. When I bought my Golf in Maryland, there were plenty of TDI’s available (not like in California where they are scarce). My brother was telling me to buy one, but I’m stubborn and didn’t listen.

    I ended up with the 2.0 gas engine. The TDI gets 30% better mileage and has 60 more horsepower.

      • randiego says:

        Now, I’m no math major… no scratch that. I was a math major, sort of, but I digress.

        Anyway, The TDI’s get roughly 35-40mpg. My 2.0 EFI SOHC gets exactly 23 regular driving, maybe 28 highway. So, I’d say 30% is about right.

        Again, you can check my math. But please be careful. You have been wrong an awful lot lately.

        BTW. The Chargers are 1-0, not 9-8.

        • JimWhite says:

          Holy cow, I’m on randiego’s side here. My wife’s Bluetec gets 30-33 with careful in-town driving and a little better than that on the highway, but not a whole lot if you are in a hurry.

          But maybe bmaz was merely thinking you were high about getting the mea culpa from Corker…

          • randiego says:

            But maybe bmaz was merely thinking you were high about getting the mea culpa from Corker…

            Oh. Didn’t think about that. A tad defensive much?

          • bmaz says:

            I was just referring to the Corker bit originally.

            But Shhhh! I got the flustered lad eating his own arguments alive, kind of like a cannibal of logic, without me even having to do anything. Now that is impressive!

            Math major huh? Go figure…….

          • freepatriot says:

            I’m with JimWhite here

            if randiego thinks corker is gonna apologize, he needs to be tested

            why should the rest of us miss out on the good stuff

            an make sure he brought enough for everyone ….

            BOOMER SOONERS

            • JimWhite says:

              Hmmm. I just got back from a meeting only to find the Longhorns are struggling with Ohio State, down 6-3 at the half. The real schools (that would be Florida and USC) put OSU away handily in the past two bowl games. Why is the Big 12 South so weak in the big bowl games? Over-rated much? Pretty weak pass by McCoy at the end of the half.

    • randiego says:

      The TDI …. has 60 more horsepower.

      Okay, ya got me on that one. I have no idea where that number came from. Maybe it was gas fumes, smartass.

  7. plunger says:

    The next wave of “rebates” looks like this for the industry:


    “Buy a new car. If you lose your job, we’ll buy it back”

    Harley Davidson:

    “Buy a new Sportster. If you trade up in the next year, we’ll apply the full purchase price to your next Harley.”

  8. MadDog says:

    Those numbers for the Japanese transplant manufacturers are pretty grim.

    I wonder how much of the lending to both Toyota customers and dealers are financed by Toyota Financial Services?

    If comparable to US manufacturers’ finance arms, Tokyo has pulled in the welcome mat and shut off the lights.

      • MadDog says:


        I just got to your email.

        Off the grid visiting one of my sisters in southern Minnesota. I gave her a computer last fall, but she still isn’t willing to shell out for the Internet. Not even dialup!

        And I didn’t watch a single second of the Viking’s expected loss.

        I did have the DVR record it, and just in case of their somehow winning it miraculously, I’d then watch it when I got home last night.

        Instead, I merely erased it.

        Which works out just fine. I have no memory of how badly we stunk and my blood pressure says “thanks”.

    • PJEvans says:

      I see that Toyota is going to do an 11-day shutdown of its factory (or factories) in Japan. Guess they’re hurting all over.

      It’s hard to buy cars when the lenders won’t lend.

  9. runfastandwin says:

    C’mon you guys, you have to enjoy the losses as much as the wins, or you will be eternally unhappy if you are a sports fan. I mean each year there’s only one team that doesn’t eventually lose right? I live in LA, and the NFL has seen fit to deny us a team, so we don’t even get to enjoy the losses, we get to enjoy nothing. Even worse, most of the time we get east coast teams on TV.

  10. CasualObserver says:


    Are you sure your focus is short enough? A month is an awfully long time-horizon from which to judge success or failure of huge corporations. How about a week by week breakdown. Or better yet, how about a day by day?

  11. randiego says:

    Damn. What kind of driving you doing? mr. ew’s 2000 Passat 1.8 Turbo gets 30 MPG on his commute to work, which is half city driving.

    Yeah, good question, but the missus’ new Versa only gets 27-28, driving the same roads. There’s lots of hills here? My driving style is more Parnelli Jones than Grandma Moses, but I’ve always thought that 23 is low… 230 miles on 10 gallons, over and over.

  12. Gerald says:

    People have been realizing Ford is different from GM, and Chrysler for some time. That is why they don’t need a loan.

    As for GM and Ford doing better than Toyota or Honda for December 2008, you should realize that that comparison for GM and Ford is against some not very good sales numbers for 2007, while Toyota and Honda had pretty good sales numbers in 2007.

    The worry now is that for the future, the car makers are expecting the total sales in the US to be at lower levels. This means further contraction of the total Automobile industry. Maybe 2 to 4 million units as I recall. That is very bad.

    Subaru is a niche market for people with specialized needs.

    Jeep must survive!! It is as American as Harley.