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The Big Three's dwindling market share is no secret. We've heard about it for years. But The Plain Dealer in Cleveland took a closer look at the numbers and was surprised at just how rapidly domestic automakers have been overtaken.
For example, GM, Ford and Chrysler shared 74 percent of U.S. auto sales in 1997. Now, ten years later, they find themselves squabbling over just 57 percent. The reasons for the decline are as obvious and well known as the loss in market share. The Big Three failed to innovate, failed to create quality products that customers wanted and didn't plan far enough into the future to protect sales. We know all that. The Plain Dealer spoke to several analysts, though, who pointed to some very specific examples of where market share was basically frittered away.

In 1996, the Ford Taurus sold 400,000 cars to be the best selling car in America. In 1997, Toyota took the top spot. In a brilliant plan to overcome Toyota's onslaught, Ford chose not to significantly change the Taurus for another 10 years. Which, as you might expect, did little to entice customers into the showroom.

The newspaper also took a look at where the market share erosion occurred, and weren't all that surprised to see the decline began on the coasts. An interactive map on the paper's Web site shows California, Oregon, Massechusets and New York as being the only states in 1997 where domestics had less than 70 percent of sales. But watch the map change in three-year increments and you can clearly see the imports creeping into the heartland.

Looking to the future, the story says all might not be lost. Analysts are quoted as saying U.S. automakers must simply do two things to survive: Build great cars, and wait for customers to notice.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      Aa the NA market shrinks for big3 other markets open up. Look at GM and Ford offerings overseas, perhaps they feel americans don't deserve nice vehicles for their traitory. This is changing thoug.
      • 7 Years Ago
      A bit intriguing to see this article posted around the same moment then Toyota get a bumpy road with CR and the Tundra
        • 7 Years Ago
        How many of those GM innovations actually made mass production? Other than the EV-1 (which barely qualifies as a regular, production vehicle) and the Corvette, GM hasn't put anything even remotely class-redefining in decades. Ford perhaps (the Focus) and Chrysler certainly (the minivan, the LH cars, the PT, the LX cars, the Viper) but GM shovelled mediocrity from about 1975 onwards.

        At the same time GM was showing the HyWire, Toyota was _selling_ the first-gen Prius at a loss and in volume all over the world. What was GM selling--actually selling in volume-- that was even remotely as important? This was hip-deep in "The Cavalier Company" days.

        I'm sorry, but GM deserves their current state. I'll make a case for Chrysler deserving better (excellent production packages, miserable QA and arrogant management) or Ford (brilliant chassis work, no money to follow through) but GM was in the business of making piss-poor appliances on wheels for a quarter century. The few bright spots (Saturn) were knifed on the cost-cutting altar.
        • 7 Years Ago
        "How many of those GM innovations actually made mass production?"

        Most of them. I forgot to mention plastic body panels on economy cars - unheard of.

        "Other than the EV-1 (which barely qualifies as a regular, production vehicle) and the Corvette, GM hasn't put anything even remotely class-redefining in decades."

        Possibly the Suburban. But when the Series hybrid comes out that will be. Anything on the skateboard platform. So, what have you done that is class-redefining in any genre ever? Toyota is just class-redefining all the time aren't they? The Taurus redefined the Camry and Accord segment in the 1980s so they can't claim that. Wait, the original FJ, no that was a Jeep copy. You're right though, Toyota and Honda keep redefining the small cars and SUVs America wants (by making them BIGGER AND BIGGER every year)

        "Ford perhaps (the Focus) and Chrysler certainly (the minivan, the LH cars, the PT, the LX cars, the Viper) but GM shovelled mediocrity from about 1975 onwards."

        How about the SSR, the G6 hardtop convertible, the Aurora was 50 times more stylish than any Honda/Toyota at the time. The Camaro when it came out in 93 was basically a 4 seat Corvette. The GNX. Envoy XUV. Fiero (OK ties with MR2). Cutlas Supreme Convertible. Saturns with plastic body panels. Cars from 1975 on, right? If you are going to present specialty cars like the Viper then that opens it up. My moms 2000 Buick Le Sabre screams beautiful COMPARED to the Camry of the time and with the rebates of $3K back that put it in the V6 Camry category.

        "At the same time GM was showing the HyWire, Toyota was _selling_ the first-gen Prius at a loss and in volume all over the world."

        The HyWire is much better than the Prius from a design point of view. Most of the time better designs (HyWire) come after worse (Prius) designs, it happens that way.

        "What was GM selling--actually selling in volume-- that was even remotely as important?"

        Important? The Prius is not an end point but a way point in the world of auto design. Asbestos tile were probably considered important at one time too but it was short lived. The Prius won't seem very important in less than 10 years. Because it is really a gas engined car with some assist. Not that important when a real viable gas alternative is developed.

        "The few bright spots (Saturn) were knifed on the cost-cutting altar."

        Yeah, because Saturn never made GM money for more than 15 years and cost multi-billions. That happens when you put out a reliable, innovative car like the Saturns (lost foam casting, plastic body panels, steel space frame, no haggle, with a return policy out lasting state mandated buyers remorse buy many days, etc., etc.) and people can't see past the K-Car looking (at the time), rust bucket Camry. Yes, GM lost lots of money and cut cost though they didn't cut the $600 or more cost per car plastic body panels until recently.

        • 7 Years Ago
        They post these every month. One has nothing to do with the other.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Intriguing or not, it's true...and we needed this kick in the pants instead of resting on our "America's Great!" laurels.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Peter thinks this is the monthly sales report just because of the image at the top.

        No, this is not a typical post every month.

        It is Tutors brain-washedness. They failed to innovate? The problem is that GM has been too innovative, too early.

        How may horse power did the EV-1 have vs, say the RAV4 electric?

        Onstar anyone? Both lexus and acura have licensed it and it is something that a Cobalt can get.

        Hydrogen fuel cells. Hmm, didn't the Equinox go like 300 or 400 miles without refueling or something.

        Oh, wait, the dual mode hybrid system that GM doesn't have to license jack crap from Toyota that has been on buses in America for years.

        Night vision on Cadillacs.

        Cylinder deactivation attempts early on before microprocessors could be used effectively.

        GM's solar powered cars did well in competitions for years.

        The skateboard platform.

        It is brain washed clueless Americans that can't go beyond one level deep in thought that don't understand good choices from bad choices.

        Losing 450K or more jobs simply because no one taught them in school that 32K Toyota jobs appearing at the loss of 450K GM jobs is not "creation" of jobs.

        But whatever. We all don't "know" what you think you know Tutor.

      • 7 Years Ago
      I just find it interesting that GM, Ford and Chrysler have held onto that much market share while defending off how many import companies?

      Plus, there are several companies that didn't exist in this country 25-40 years ago.

      As for running to empty, the title of this article is misleading in a way. Ford, GM and Chrysler were bound to lose some market share. There are a ton of competitors out there and there may be more in the future (think China and maybe more Euro companies coming back).

      I am a GM and Ford fan. But I do realize that they built shoddy products during the 70s, 80s and 90s. I was always more into Ford because it seemed like their quality was a step up above GM's (compare a 90s Taurus to a Lumina). But Ford and GM have made great leaps in product quality, reliability and design. Sure, some vehicles may not be up to 08 Honda Accord standards but they are close. And I have a feeling if Ford and GM keep pumping out better products, they may regain some market share or at least level out.

      Just my two cents.
      • 7 Years Ago
      The 1997 Taurus sales disaster was a consequence of a dismal redesign Ford released that year. Rather than fix the screw up they simply walked away from the table.

      Can you imagine what would happen if Toyota did a Camry redesign and that new version tanked in sales? Sitting on their hands wouldn't happen.

      • 7 Years Ago
      This is so true, my opinion is that the American big 3 have so many resources at their hands that they really and truly dont care at times. It is clear to see that they suffered from poor build quality, but they are trying to overcome that. What really needs to be differentiated with these companies is the products that they offer. For instance, GM has the remarkable ability to build one SUV/truck and then put a Saturn/Cadillac/Chevy/Saab/and Pontiac badge on it and expect the public to ust buy the exact same vehicle at different price brackets. That is one of the problems with GM. Ford needs to work on something, be it product type, marketing, or something. Ford makes some very excellent vehicles, the Explorer, F-150, Fusion, Edge, Five Hundred/Taurus, and Focus hatch. For some strange reason Ford sales are just still struggling, and Ford does a great job on exploiting and differentiating different vehicles across Jag, Rover, Volvo, Mazda, Lincoln, and Ford. Ford needs to pay complete attention to the domestic market to make sure they see any gaps that need to be filled inorder to bing back up sales.
      Chrysler is like the lowest of the three, but in my opinion has some of the best products. They do the best job of differentiating amongst the group brands. They have excellent vehicles. merceds helped them out immensly before the majority divestment from the alliance. Chrysler has one of the biggest question marks as to why they are failing. Great products, quality, safety, and variety.

      At the end of all of this it just sames that many Americans today prefer the overseas vehicles especially from Europe, and Japan ( Korea too). But in Europe American vehicles are few and far apart.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Hey dude Ford and GM sell big in Europe, the Astra is #1 and the Ford Focus and their midsize are Huge hits..... They just didn't get it here till now.....but Chrysler is another story thanks to the Germans.....
        • 7 Years Ago
        You pointed out GM marketing the same vehicle with a different badge but this isn't unique to GM by any means. Ford, Lincoln and Mercury products are often the same at different (occasionally nonsensical) price points. Generally speaking a the pricing goes Ford < Mercury < Lincoln for the same vehicle much like Chevy Truck < GM Truck even similarly loaded. And if you can't see it in the Ford produced SUVs certainly you can in the Ranger and Mazda B-Series mid-size trucks.
      • 7 Years Ago
      And the French build such great cars that in the cold the La Crap door handels fell off and the transmission cost more to replace then the car new....... what do you call that?
      • 7 Years Ago
      Who cares? Only those stupid enough to buy their products and those big three employees who have not found new jobs. Such is capitalism!
        • 7 Years Ago
        I think it has more than a French connotation. It IS in French. Not sure if that "figures" though.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Your name has a French connotation. Figures.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Did you get paid to write this? We get the idea, you write the same thing every other month..... When you have 3 American companies and 20 imports you will loose market share, I hope you still live at home with all that insight........................
      • 7 Years Ago
      Scary chart. It's like the reverse of the obesity epidemic.

      Don't forget how the number of serious competitors also increased. Hyundai and KIA were jokes back in 1997 but now they command serious volume. And fleet sales declined heavily for the Big 3. No excuses, just facts.

      However, with respect to this statement, "The Big Three failed to innovate, failed to create quality products that customers wanted and didn't plan far enough into the future to protect sales.", I would disagree with the first part because the quality gap decreased during this time. The second part is iffy. Customers did want the types of products that the Big 3 sold, but their execution was inconsistent. The third part is spot on. Ford and GM at least have no excuse for not having had full product portfolios to protect for market shifts. They and Chrysler put too much stock in trucks.

      • 7 Years Ago
      Ford never "sold" 400,000 Tauras's to walk in consumers.

      A large chunk of domestic cars have, up until recently, been forced upon the big car rental companies. Another thing, Americans like larger cars. The ace in the hole that the big three had was the larger size of the vehicles and average Americans equate bigger with better. Up until the 90's, most foreign cars were small. Probably one of the largest, the Avalon would be average in size today.

      In the early to late 90's the Altima was a small car, same goes for the Accord and maybe less so for the Camry of that time. You knew the Honda was the better car but the big three had bigger cars and the perception was that they were more plush even though they were crappier. But now, there is a FULL SIZE Accord and along with the large and robust Altima and Camry it's a tough slog for the big three to get people to buy their cars. Ford has pissed away so much of their engineering efforts on their lackluster trucks that they completely forgot about their cars and I rarely see any of them on the streets. Here's a hint big three: from here on out gas will forever be expensive and people will start buying more fuel efficient CARS ... quit focusing so much on trucks ... it's a slowly dying product line.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Interesting point you made David. A bit ironic is they we view once them as "bigger isn't always better" and now the embraced the "bigger, longer, wider" mantra. All it miss is RWD and a optionnal V8 for affordable cars unless paying more for a SUV, pick-up or luxury vehicules like Lexus and Infiniti. The new Accord reminds me of "Do as I said! Not as I do." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Do_as_I_Say_%28Not_as_I_Do%29:_Profiles_in_Liberal_Hypocrisy They preach for being more "greener" but their cars have growed to bigger, larger and bigger.

        I wonder if the term "Manufacturing dissent" (first used for a movie about Michael Moore http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manufacturing_dissent ) could apply now to Toyota (and to a latter extend at Honda)
      • 7 Years Ago
      "failed to innovate"...surely you jest. what about the pontiac aztec huh?
      • 7 Years Ago
      Here my theory on the Big Three's market share lost, we all know they had inferior cars for a while, but I think the biggest factor was the generation gap. When Fast and the Furious caught, I was 19, just joined the military and I was also looking for a car. I wanted perfomance and Mustangs and Camaro werent cutting it. So what can get me in the game. RSX, Civc , Eclipse, Impreza..etc. What did The Big Three have to offer hmmmn Cavalier, Neon, Focus(Good), and nothing else. They couldnt get anything out quick enought to get in on the game and today with high gas prices, everything in their portfolio is affected not just small cars.
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