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Best-Sellers of 2005

January 18, 2006, by Bill Cawthon

The auto show season is upon us and while we look at all the new and shiny stuff being trotted out by the automakers, it's a good idea to take a look back at the year that was.

Winner and still champion, the Ford F-Series was again the best-selling vehicle in North America. Photo courtesy of Ford Media. Copyright 2006 Ford Motor Company.

2005 was another good year for the automakers in the United States. Sales were up 0.23% over 2004 making last year the best since 2001. Combined sales of cars, pickups, minivans and sport-utility vehicles just barely missed the 17-million mark. Had last month had one more selling day, it's quite possible 2005 would have beaten 2001 to become the second-best sales year in automotive history.

By the end of 2005, there had been a lot of changes but probably none bigger than Chevrolet beating Ford in total brand sales for the first time since 1986. It wasn't a resounding victory; Chevy's margin of victory was just six-tenths of a percent, but it was enough. Plus, as I predicted last year, the Chevrolet TrailBlazer outsold the Ford Explorer, ending the Explorer's fifteen-year reign at the top of the SUV ranks. The Colorado and Toyota Tacoma both outsold the Ranger to become the leaders in compact pickups. While the bowtie bunch deserves their moment in the sun, it's worth noting that Chevy's victories were primarily due to the fact Ford's sales dropped more than Chevrolet's.

The one Ford Chevrolet couldn't beat was the one that counted: the Ford F-Series pickup which racked up its twenty-fourth consecutive year as the United States' best-selling vehicle and its third year as North America's best-selling vehicle.

It's hard to come up with superlatives for the F-Series. Now closing on thirty million sales since 1948, it's the best-selling truck in automotive history and second only to the Toyota Corolla in total worldwide sales. It's been the best-selling pickup in the U.S. since 1978 and the most popular pickup in Canada for an even more impressive forty years.

Chevrolet also had the top-selling American-brand passenger car, the Impala, but the best they could manage in the overall standings was fifth. This is the second year without an American-badged car in the top three.

The Camry was once again the best-selling car in the United States as Toyota picked up another 1.12% of market share. That's five in a row for the Camry and that brings up another quirk from 2005.

I mentioned earlier that Chevrolet had become the best-selling brand of light vehicle in the U.S. What's weird is that the best-selling brand of passenger cars is Toyota while the best-selling brand of light trucks is Ford. Chevy was able to combine runner-up status in both cars and trucks to take the overall title.

Japanese and Korean brands added another hunk to their share of the light vehicle market as GM and Ford shares dropped to historic lows. BMW, Mercedes and Porsche also picked up a larger piece of the pie.

Toyota's Camry has been the best-selling car since 2001 and the Lexus RX330 became the first SUV to top the luxury chart. Photos courtesy of Toyota Media. Copyright 2006 Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

Detroit's share of the total market declined again in 2005. Out of every 100 cars and light trucks sold, barely 57 were from Ford, GM or Chrysler's domestic brands. When it comes to passenger cars, Detroit is definitely fighting a rear-guard action: only about 42 of every 100 passenger cars sold wore a Detroit badge.

Only an extremely strong June kept GM's 2005 share from dropping to about 25% of the light vehicle market. Since 2001, GM has lost 2 whole points of market share. The news is worse for Ford, which has dropped 4.5 points in four years.

The key here is declining demand for traditional sport-utility vehicles. In spite of the biggest average incentives, sales of the big rigs were down 18.5% at GM and an average of 27.4% at Ford. Whether the slump was caused by high fuel prices, changing tastes or products that had not been significantly refreshed in far too long a time, GM and Ford both waited too long to adapt and it cost them dearly in terms of sales and profits.

The one U.S.-based automaker that bucked the Detroit trend was Chrysler which finished the year with an improved market share and a brand of SUVs that saw a 12% increase in sales. Chrysler also easily managed to keep its throne as the minivan king as the Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country took the top two spots in that segment.

The Chrysler 300 continues to be a hot ticket and was the best-selling DaimlerChrysler passenger car in the U.S. last year.

Toyota scored a double coup in the luxury field as Lexus cruised past BMW to a sixth year as the best-selling premium brand and the Lexus RX330 beat the BMW 3-series as the best-selling luxury vehicle. As a percentage of total light vehicle sales, luxury brands were off slightly last year, mostly due to declining sales at Ford's premium brands, Jaguar, Lincoln and Volvo.

Chevrolet became America's favorite brand in 2005. The Impala was the top American-badged car in sales. Photo courtesy of GM Media. Copyright 2006 General Motors, Inc.

Loser of the year was Isuzu. Reduced to selling mostly rebadged TrailBlazers and Colorados, Isuzu's 2005 sales totaled 12,177 vehicles, down 55% from 2004. To put that in perspective, Porsche sold 13,607 Cayennes. More people bought Range Rovers than all Isuzus combined. Makes you kind of wonder when GM is finally going to pull the plug.

After Chevy's victory over Ford, 2005's next-biggest story was crossovers, the latest euphemism for the dreaded term "station wagon." These smaller, car-based lifestyle vehicles are rapidly replacing the traditional truck-based sport utility vehicles as consumer favorites. Like "sport-utility vehicle," the term "crossover" covers quite a range from the revitalized Chrysler PT Cruiser, Chevy's hot new HHR and Nissan Murano to more traditional-looking vehicles like the Cadillac SRX, Toyota Highlander and Volvo XC90.

Even $3.00 per gallon gasoline was able to put only a very slight dent in America's love affair with the full-size pickup. Down just over a tenth of a percent from 2004, F-Series, Silverados, Rams still accounted for nearly 15% of all light vehicle sales. Once the sole province of the Detroit Big Three, the challengers from Nissan and Toyota are making major inroads.

One of the models to which we can look forward is Herpa's replica of the striking new Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Photo courtesy of DaimlerChrysler Media. Copyright 2006 DaimlerChrysler AG.

For those of us who like our new vehicles in a slightly smaller size, 2005 was an okay year for European cars, but a bit slim on new American models in 1:87 scale.

In terms of cars sold in North America, Herpa introduced the new Audi A3, Audi A8, BMW 3-Series and facelifted BMW 7-Series as well as the beautiful Mercedes-Benz CLS. Busch rolled out the restyled Mercedes-Benz M-Class and Wiking introduced the new Passat and the new Golf we'll see later this year. Soon, we'll also see the new Mercedes S-Class from Herpa and the R-Class from Busch. I have the promotional version of the Herpa S-Class and it is stunning. Wiking will have the new Audi Cabriolet and the Q7 SUV. But there were no American cars, not even from Busch.

But it's a whole new year and a big change is coming courtesy of Ricko, a Chinese manufacturer that introduced its first 1:87 scale model just last year. Up to now, Ricko has specialized in modern Italian and classic German cars. But next month, Ricko will be shipping the first of fifteen new models based on American cars. Most are new, like the Chrysler 300C and Ford Mustang GT, but there are a few classics in the mix, like the 1963 Lincoln Continental and 1934 Cadillac Aerodynamic Coupe. First out of the gate will be the 2007 Dodge Caliber, a nice scale model of the new crossover Dodge unveiled last week. About the same time, there will be a stunning replica of a 1931 Lincoln Model K limousine. Some of these models are junior versions of Ricko's 1:18 models, but most are completely new. We're even finally going to get an HO-scale PT Cruiser sometime this summer.

Dodge introduced the new Dodge Caliber at the Detroit Auto Show. Ricko is producing this 1:87 scale model which will be available in the near future.

So what does this mean for the future? Is the long drought finally coming to an end? If these models and others that are in the works do well, more will follow. Perhaps even some of the German modelmakers will take the plunge. After all, some of the new vehicles coming off the assembly lines in various U.S. and Canadian plants are destined for Europe. The Caliber may be one of the first new Dodges sold in Europe in decades, but there are six Chrysler-badged vehicles built in Europe: The Chrysler 300C, the 300C Touring (Dodge Magnum over here), the Chrysler Voyager and Grand Voyager minivans and the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Commander.

Herpa made a Grand Cherokee once, they could do it again. Especially now that the former model has disappeared from the catalog.

It would only be fair. The 1:87 scale version of the new BMW M6 is coming from Ricko, not Herpa.

So as we look back on a pretty good year for new full-size cars and trucks, we can look forward to a very good year for 1:87 scale models. And we haven't even seen all the new goodies in store. Don't forget, Spielwarenmesse, the international toy fair, kicks off in less than three weeks and I am sure there are some nice surprises in store.

By the way, we're welcoming a new driver to our ranks today. Happy Birthday, Wendy!

See you next time!

- Bill Cawthon

Bill Cawthon is a modeler and collector. His primary hobby interests are vehicle models in 1:87 and 1:160 scales and model railroading. He is senior editor of Route 1-87, the magazine of the 1/87 Vehicle Club, and a columnist and product reviewer for Model Railroad News. He is one of the creators of the award-winning "Grimy Gulch" model railroad layout.

In real life, Bill is a marketing and public relations consultant for MARK III Systems, a successful information technology company. He also writes for, an international auto industry publication, reporting on the U.S. light vehicle industry.

He lives in Houston, Texas with his wife, Marge, and their children.

Bill's columns appear twice monthly on Promotex Online. To learn more about him, click here.


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published by Cadabra Corp. This page was lasted updated: January 18, 2006