In our series “what has changed in 30 years?”, we continue our comparison of historical car sales vs. present times. We’ve explored France and Germany before, and now we’ll move across the Atlantic to the US. The overall US car market has gained 13,4% of volume, from 15,4 million sales in 1985 to 17,5 million in 2015, but of course that doesn’t tell the whole story, as there have been big shifts of volume and market share for individual brands. Also, 11 brands have been killed or removed from the US market and 16 have arrived. That doesn’t even account for the brands that have come and gone in the meantime, like Saturn, Hummer, Geo and Daewoo.
Looking at the shares by country of origin, we notice that the local Detroit 3 manufacturers held more than 3/4 of their home market, with another fifth for the Japanese brands and a meager 4,4% for the Europeans, led by Volkswagen. The South-Koreans wouldn’t arrive on the shores of North America until the next year, as Hyundai started US exports of the Excel in February 1986 and Kia would take another 8 years to cross the Pacific.
30 years later, the American brands have lost over 30 percentage points of market share and control less than half of their home market. And that’s counting the American brands of FCA as local. This is a similar trend as in Germany and France, although the decline of the local brands is not as hard as in the US. In absolute terms, the American brands have lost 3,8 million units of volume, and if it weren’t for the impressive rise of Jeep, that figure would’ve been over 4,5 million sales. In fact, General Motors is responsible for 85% of the loss, as the combined GM brands lost 3,2 million sales in the past 30 years, and GMC is the only GM brand to improve during the period.
Who’s picked up those numbers? Well, virtually everybody else. Not counting the brands that are no longer around, Mazda and Alfa Romeo are the only foreign brands to have lost volume: -7.698 sales and -3.839 sales respectively. Japan’s market share has almost doubled to 37,6%, European brands now hold more than 9% of the US market and the South-Koreans are at almost 8%. However, it should be noted that most of the “import” brands have built factories in the US in the meantime, so it’s safe to assume that even though the share of Japanese brands has almost doubled, physical shipments of cars from Japan to the US have actually declined.
|Brand||1985||Market Share||2015||Market Share||2015 Rank||Change|
|4||Dodge (incl. RAM)||988.684||6,4%||1.010.960||5,8%||6||2,3%|
|10||Mercury / Merkur||519.033||3,4%||0||0,0%||–||–|
Chevrolet has lost its leading position in the brand ranking to Ford, as Chevy lost 28,3% of its volume and Ford just 3,7%. Oldsmobile was the #3 brand in 1985 with over a million sales, and less than 20 years later the brand was killed after sales had collapsed as a result of changing consumer taste and mismanagement at General Motors. Toyota is now in third position, up from #5 in 1985, passing Dodge. The Japanese brand has also more than doubled its US sales to join Chevrolet and Ford in the 2 million unit club.
Buick has tumbled from #6 in 1985 to #19 in the brands ranking as it has lost three quarters of its sales during the period. Can you imagine Buick outselling Nissan and Honda today? Well, 30 years ago it did. At that time, Nissan was still well ahead of Honda, a spot it is aiming to reclaim either this year or the next. The three largest Japanese automakers have added a whopping 2,5 million sales together, and that excludes the 655.000 additional units from their luxury brands, which weren’t yet around in 1985.
At the current FCA, the now defunct Plymouth brand was actually larger than Chrysler, as the popular Voyager minivan (now Town & Country, soon to be Pacifica) was sold under Plymouth during those years. Jeep is the fastest growing brand in relative terms during the past 30 years, at +376% although most of this astonishing growth happened only in the last 6 years, as Jeep sales in 2009 were only up 50.000 units from 1985.
Back in the day, Volkswagen was still the best selling European brand in the US, but it has been passed by Mercedes-Benz in the meantime, and BMW is not far behind as both brands have quadrupled their sales in 30 years time. Audi can’t keep up with that, even though its 174% growth rate is pretty impressive by itself. However, the 3 German luxury brands have added only slightly more volume than the 3 Japanese luxury brands which didn’t even exist in 1985: Lexus, Acura and Infiniti.
Also read Car sales comparison US 1985 vs. 2015, part 2: models