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Week of January 11, 1999


HN sponsored by Nissan

HN sponsored by Nissan

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THE BEST OF THE BEST
TOP SELLERS
TURNABOUT’S FAIR PLAY
MOVING METAL
CLOUDY CRYSTAL BALLS
CONSUMERS COULD BE THE WINNERS
RIDING THE BLUE MACAW
BILLIONS AND BILLIONS
IMPASSE IN BRAZIL
DOLLARS FOR JUNKERS
BMW WAVERS ON ROVER'
MERGER MANIA CONTINUES
NO ON CHO
COROLLA CAPS THE MARKET
WHEELING WINNERS


THE BEST OF THE BEST — Volkswagen’s scored a big hit with its New Beetle, and if anyone had any doubts, the car has collected yet another top honor. The reborn Bug was chosen North American Car of the Year by a panel of U.S. and Canadian auto writers. Perhaps the only one surprised by the award was VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech, who was forced to pay off on a $20 bet with Gerd Klauss, head of Volkswagen of America. “I paid, and I’m happy I could pay,” said a smiling Piech. “I’m happy to lose it.” The winner in the truck category came as a bit more of a surprise. Most observers had expected the new Chevrolet Silverado to take top honors, but the winner was the redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee. The Silverado came close, according to judges, but it lost out after splitting its votes with the nearly identical full-size pickup, the GMC Sierra.


TOP SELLERS — In a season of winners and losers, the Toyota Camry grabbed another hard-sought honor. The midsize sedan narrowly outsold the Honda Accord to maintain its sales crown as America’s most popular passenger car for the second year in a row. Americans bought or leased 429,575 Camrys in 1998, just 28,504 more than the Honda Accord. Over two-thirds of Camrys sold in the U.S. are now being built at the automaker’s plant in Kentucky. Camry’s numbers pale in comparison to Ford’s F-Series pickup. The full-size pickup held onto its lead as the best-selling truck — and top-selling motor vehicle — for the 17th year in a row. Boosted by the introduction of the heavy-duty F-250 and F-350 models, Ford sold a total of 836,629 of the full-size pickups. That was nearly 60 percent more than the second-place truck contender, the Chevy full-size pickup. GM suffered a shortage due to model changeover and a devastating strike, but it has set a goal of displacing Ford as production of the new Chevrolet Silverado reaches full speed.


TURNABOUT’S FAIR PLAY — While Ford dominated the truck market, it failed to achieve a long-sought dream of winning the luxury car sales sweepstakes. Going into the final weeks of 1998, Ford’s Lincoln division seemed positioned to outsell its cross-town rival, General Motors’ Cadillac division. It would have marked the first time in 49 years that Cadillac couldn’t claim the sales crown. But Cadillac scored an unexpected burst of business in December, moving 3,642 of its new Escalade SUVs, and 5,008 Seville sedans. The Seville business was up nearly 700 percent over December 1998. Cadillac ended the year with sales of 187,343 vehicles, nudging by Lincoln at 187,121. But the two automakers may need to look over their shoulders in 1999. The Mercedes-Benz brand of DaimlerChrysler scored its own best-ever sales year in the U.S, with volume of 170,245. As with Lincoln and Cadillac, Mercedes has been riding high on growing demand for luxury SUVs.


MOVING METAL — It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Going into 1998, most pundits expected sales to sag a bit, but the U.S. auto industry rolled up one of its best years ever, thanks to surging demand for anything that looks like a truck. Total industry volume rose 3 percent for the year, to 15.6 million, hitting the second-highest figure ever, and the best sales in 12 years. While 1998 might have gotten off to a slow start, it was running in full gear as the year came to an end, with December sales up 7 percent compared to the final month of 1997. Foreign automakers racked up the biggest year-to-year gains. Japanese and Korean manufacturers posted a combined 4 percent increase, while the Europeans scored a 29 percent increase. The Big Three — counting the Chrysler side of DaimlerChrysler — posted a combined increase of just 1 percent. The domestic numbers were impacted by the seven-week strike that shut General Motors down over the summer.



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