The Global Auto Sales Race Heats Up

In the global automotive industry things are really heating up as the traditional players fight for a top spot in the race for global dominance. General Motors Corp., which has been number one in terms of global auto sales for over 75 years, is fighting to keep that title in the face of growing competition from Toyota. Last year Toyota was trailing General Motors by only 261,805 units.

Though it looks inevitable that Toyota will claim top spot, increased sales in China (GM is now #1 in China beating former top dog Volkswagen) and surging sales in India have buoyed global sales for the General despite declining sales in North America. General Motors boss Rick Wagoner recently stated “If we can keep growing where the opportunities are to grow, someone’s going to have to hustle pretty hard to catch up with us like that.” That said, according to the Wall Street Journal being #1 is no longer a top priority for Rick Wagoner and General Motors.

Ford Motor Company, once #2 globally, is in third place with sales at just over 6.2 million units. Strong sales in Europe have offset a seemingly endless sales decline of blue oval vehicles in North America. Once best sellers like the Ford Focus and Ford Explorer now sit on dealer lots as more innovative and fresh competition lure away new buyers. Ford would be wise to devise a more coherent product planning strategy instead of letting great cars waste away without any clear vision.

This is quite evident when you look at the recently discontinued Ford Taurus and Lincoln LS, vehicles that carried substantial brand equity at one point but failed as they became stale and irrelevant amongst their respective competition. If Honda and Toyota can keep the Accord and Camry nameplates going after more than 2 decades, why has Ford had such a difficult time doing the same?

The big news isn’t just at the top of the list. Riding high on a global sales increase of over 11% in 2005, Hyundai Automotive Group is in high gear. The Korean automotive giant has moved into sixth spot behind DaimlerChrysler. Since 1999, Hyundai has passed established players such as Honda, Fiat, Nissan, and Renault. Hyundai doesn’t plan on getting too comfy in sixth spot as they’ve set their sights on being in the top five by the end of the decade.

They’ve got their work cut out for them as fifth place DaimlerChrysler is currently selling about 1 million more vehicles annually. But I wouldn’t bet against Hyundai. In the last 10 years they’ve beaten just about everyone’s expectations.

Volkswagen is holding steady in fourth place with over 5.2 million vehicles sold in 2005. 2006 and 2007 should see modest increases with the introduction of the next generation Golf (now known as the Rabbit) in North America and new models such as the Volkswagen Eos.

Although nothing is for certain in the auto industry, one theme holds true. No car company has an inherent right to the top spot. It has to be earned through great cars and trucks. In this list the big winner is the consumer.

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