By the Numbers: Mayday! Mayday! We're Going Down!

Frank Williams
by Frank Williams
by the numbers mayday mayday we re going down

May was a disaster for American new car sales. Practically every player in the U.S. market ended-up the month trailing last May's totals, many by a significant margin. Perhaps the most damning indicator of the industry's general direction: the F-150's sudden and precipitous drop from the top sales spot. Ford's full-size pickup wasn't just edged out; it was defenestrated by four different cars. The Civic, Camry, Accord and Corolla all mounted the Mother of All Palace Coups. With gas prices singing "the only way is up," clearly, May is only the start of a long, hot, bloody summer.


Overall light truck sales fell 24.5 percent from last May. The Chevrolet Silverado* led the drop in pickup truck sales, down 42 percent in May, down 25.9 percent year-to-date (YTD). The Dodge Ram slid by 37 percent for the month, 26.8 percent drop on the year. Ford's F-Series' tumble from the top of the U.S. sales chart was appropriately dramatic: down 30.6 percent in May and 18.7 percent from the first five months of last year. The Toyota Tundra turned-in its first negative month last month. May saw no respite (obviously); ToMoCo's full-sizer finished the month down 31.5 percent. Strong sales earlier in the year have kept it above the red line year to date; sales are still 8.5 percent ahead of last year.

Truck-Based SUVs

Traditional SUVs are dying, with one notable exception. Chevy's Tahoe* continues its fall from grace, dropping 39.7 percent in May, 29.9 percent YTD. The Dodge Durango has just about disappeared from view, "boasting" a 68.8 percent drop in May, down 44.2 percent for the year. The once all-conquering Ford Explorer is barely selling. Sales are down 41.2 percent in May, negative 28.7 percent for the year. Interestingly, the Toyota Sequoia is up 81.7 percent compared to last May, up 29.4 percent TYD. It's already outselling the Durango. If these trends continue, by the end of summer, Sequoia sales could easily eclipse the Explorer and Tahoe.


Here's news: buyers abandoning pickups and SUVs seem to be skipping CUVs and going directly to cars. The GMC Acadia lost the big Mo; sales fell for the second straight month vs. last year. Sales cratered 27.6 percent in May; excellent sales for the first three months have kept it 20.5 percent ahead for the year, though. For the first time, The Ford Edge dropped below the previous year's sales, down 2.6 percent in May. Like the Acadia, robust sales earlier this year have kept the annual sales up; the Edge finished May 26.8 percent ahead of the first five months last year. The Toyota Highlander* and Honda Pilot both finished May below May '07, down 9.6 percent and 16.5 percent respectively. The Highlander is still 1.9 percent up on last year, but so far, the Pilot is 14.4 percent below 2007.

Family Cars

The year of the car is finally here. Almost every mainstream passenger car showed increases in May. Chevy's Malibu* fell slightly from last month, but still ended up 39.1 percent ahead of May '07, up 25.7 percent YTD. The Chrysler 300 was the exception that proved the rule, finishing May down 52.9 percent, 30.7 percent YTD. (Chrysler attributed the drop to decreased fleet and rental sales.) Ford Fusion sales were up 26.7 percent in May, up 10.5 percent YTD. May was the Toyota Camry's best month in 2007. May 2008 saw a 2.3 percent increase on that high water mark; annual sales rose 2.3 percent. The Honda Accord continued its trajectory, rising 37 percent in May, 8.3 percent YTD.


Chrysler's bright spot: the Dodge Caliber. Sales were up 6.7 percent in May, 9.2 percent YTD. The redesigned Focus was Ford's biggest grower, jumping 53.2 percent in May, running 35.7 percent ahead of last year. Chevy's Cobalt continued its sales climb, rising 19.2 percent in May, 17.8 percent YTD. The best selling vehicle in May was… the Honda Civic*. Civic sales were up 33.3 percent in May, 20.2 percent YTD. The Nissan Sentra finishes its third straight month of sales increases with a 9.6 percent jump May, 6.9 percent YTD. Toyota's Corolla also had a good showing in May: up 16.8 percent. A slow start on the year means the Corolla's still trailing last year by 8.1 percent YTD.


Chevy's Aveo sales dipped drastically in February and March but they've increased steadily ever since. It's up 44.3 percent from last May, up 2.3 percent YTD. The Honda Fit made a huge jump, up 53 percent for May and 64 percent YTD. Nissan's Versa rose 14.8 percent from May 07, up 21.5 percent YTD. Toyota Yaris' sales rose 31.5 percent in May and 50.4 percent for the year to date.


The Toyota Prius turned in a shocking performance in May. In spite of soaring gas prices and consumers' increasingly "green" mindset, sales dropped 37.5 percent in May. Toyota [credibly] blames a shortage of cars on the ground. Regardless, sales are still up 3.8 percent YTD.

By Manufacturer

GM finished May 27.5 percent below last May, down 15.9 percent YTD. Chrysler was down 25.4 percent on the month, 19.3 percent on the year. Ford fared better, with "only" a 15.9 percent drop for the month, 11.2 percent drop for the year. For the fourth month this year, Toyota turned in a sales performance below the same month last year . This time, ToMoCo was off 4.3 percent for the month. They remain 3.5 percent below 2007 YTD. Honda was the only one of the "top five" automakers to finish both the month and year in the black. HoMoCo was up 15.6 percent on the month and, up 4.8 percent on the year.

Total Sales

GM, Ford, Chrysler and Toyota are closing truck plants and scrambling to convert truck lines to build cars– now that they've finally realized that truck sales aren't going to improve any time soon. As the model year starts winding down, you can count on even bigger incentives on trucks and SUVS as manufacturers try to clear out their inventories and make room for the cars everyone wants. Will they all make it to the end of the summer? Good question.

*Sales numbers include hybrid models

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  • Menno Menno on Jun 16, 2008

    Ronin, my comparison of AMC and Honda was only relevant in the sense that AMC were consistently strong (but not exclusively oriented) towards smaller cars (sporty handling was not something any American cars had back then, in any way shape or form so it's a comparison only based upon relative size compared to the rest of the market). Likewise, AMC sales started upward on a nice trajectory in 1956, peaking in numbers in 1960, and in market placement in 1961, after which the market changed and AMC tried to change to suit, but missed the target (as Geeber mentions so eloquently with good details of what transpired). Geeber, had AMC gone ahead with the Tarpon in 1964 instead of the Marlin in 1965, the "Barracuda competitor" Tarpon fastback (based on the smaller Rambler American). The problem that the engineers had with that plan was that the then-current AMC V8 (287 & 327) weighed in at 650 pounds and was considered unsuitable for the American. (The 1967 290 & 343 V8's were okay for smaller cars, weighing substantially less). Instead, the engineers should have thought outside the box, shifted the engine back in the car a few inches and used the same Bendix front disc brakes that Studebaker used in the Avanti, on V8 Tarpons. Can you imagine the look on the faces of the prospective Mustang buyers in 1964, when faced with a Rambler Tarpon with 270 horsepower and a twin-stick five speed manual?! Heh heh. Mustang didn't get 271 horsepower as an option until 1965. Sorry, got sidetracked. Anyway, the comparison of Honda and AMC is majorly flawed in many ways, but the point is, that markets change and can be capitalized on by companies - but said companies must also be flexible and not trap themselves into marketing corners as Rambler did ("sensible shoes - we gotcher sensible shoes here.")

  • Ronin317 Ronin317 on Jun 17, 2008

    And that post is supposed to make it less ridiculous? Look I agree that a company which is inflexible will trap themselves and eventually lead to their downfall, but Honda isn't even close to that. At all. Your example was well thought out, just had the wrong application here...and I can't think of a modern brand that it would fit for.

  • Probert Wow - so many digital renders - Ford, Stellantis. - whose next!!! They're really bringing it on....
  • Zerocred So many great drives:Dalton Hwy from Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle.Alaska Marine Highway from Bellingham WA to Skagway AK. it was a multi-day ferry ride so I didn’t actually drive it, but I did take my truck.Icefields Parkway from Jasper AB to Lake Louise AB, CA.I-70 and Hwy 50 from Denver to Sacramento.Hwy 395 on the east side of the Sierras.
  • Aidian Holder I'm not interested in buying anything from a company that deliberately targets all their production in crappy union-busting states. Ford decided to build their EV manufaturing in Tennessee. The company built it there because of an anti-union legal environment. I won't buy another Ford because of that. I've owned four Fords to date -- three of them pickups. I'm shopping for a new one. It won't be a Ford Lightning. If you care about your fellow workers, you won't buy one either.
  • Denis Jeep have other cars?!?
  • Darren Mertz In 2000, after reading the glowing reviews from c/d in 1998, I decided that was the car for me (yep, it took me 2 years to make up my mind). I found a 1999 with 24k on the clock at a local Volvo dealership. I think the salesman was more impressed with it than I was. It was everything I had hoped for. Comfortable, stylish, roomy, refined, efficient, flexible, ... I can't think of more superlatives right now but there are likely more. I had that car until just last year at this time. A red light runner t-boned me and my partner who was in the passenger seat. The cops estimate the other driver hit us at about 50 mph - on a city street. My partner wasn't visibly injured (when the seat air bag went off it shoved him out of the way of the intruding car) but his hip was rather tweaked. My car, though, was gone. I cried like a baby when they towed it away. I ruminated for months trying to decide how to replace it. Luckily, we had my 1998 SAAB 9000 as a spare car to use. I decided early on that there would be no new car considered. I loathe touch screens. I'm also not a fan of climate control. Months went by. I decided to keep looking for another B5 Passat. As the author wrote, the B5.5 just looked 'over done'. October this past year I found my Cinderella slipper - an early 2001. Same silver color. Same black leather interior. Same 1.8T engine. Same 5 speed manual transmission. I was happier than a pig in sh!t. But a little sad also. I had replaced my baby. But life goes on. I drive it every day to work which takes me over some rather twisty freeway ramps. I love the light snarel as I charge up some steep hills on my way home. So, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Passat guy.