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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