The Numbers Don’t Lie: Car Model Success Versus Failure

As a former marketing guy, I love to analyze sales and production results. Once per month I get to witness how reality and perception take very different paths.

Advertising and PR firms have gotten pretty good at manipulating not only the consumers, but also the media. Too many automotive journalists today seem to have no use for data or patience for analysis…and therefore are quick to talk about the success of a particular model without seeing the numbers that could support or contradict the message.

Here are a few cars that are less successful than what the manufacturers or media would have you believe:

Audi A8/S8: Audi is a favorite of enthusiasts, especially among the journalists at some of the major publications. The A8 and its higher-performance S8 platform-mate get so many glowing reviews as the ultimate executive sedans that people often cite how successful the line is. Evidently, everyone has been watching the film “Ronin” over and over on cable rather than looking at the statistics, because Audi’s A8/S8 team is an absolute sales bust! Through July, the A8 and S8 have combined for a scant 1633 units in 2008. In comparison, the much-derided BMW 7-Series (in its last year before a significant update) delivered 2942 units in July alone!

2005-Present Ford Mustang: I’m bringing this up again – “retro” has done as much for Ford’s pony as Brian Bosworth did for the Seattle Seahawks. I’ve had plenty of smart, educated, well-informed car people jump down my throat on this one, only to retract their statements when hearing the statistics about how the current generation of Mustang simply isn’t outselling its predecessor.

The figures don’t lie: In July 2008, the Mustang delivered 10,711 units (almost equal to 2007) and is hitting 65,764 units for the year, off 25 percent from 2007 levels. The current generation had 160,975 units delivered in 2005, 166,530 in 2006 and 134,626 in 2007. This equates to a total of 527,895 units, and averages to 147,320 units per model year.

The Mustang’s previous generation, which was widely considered just a rather poor styling update had the following results: 166,915 in 1999, 173,676 in 2000, 169,198 in 2001, 138,356 in 2002 140,350 in 2003, and 129,858 in the last year before the widely-publicized launch of the new platform. This total of 918,353 units averages out to 153,059 per model year, which includes the recession periods of 2000, 2001 and early 2002.

While the current Ford Mustang tickles the eyes of those old enough to have been of driving age in the 1960s (the ones that drive BMW, Lexus and Mercedes vehicles now), Honda’s Civic – a car targeted at the Mustang’s core demographic saw continued average growth and expansion.

Chrysler 300C: It’s been “Car of the Year” and has been the darling of the NASCAR set, but the 300 has only been a sales success on Chrysler’s own internal scale. At 3818 units delivered in July and 43,832 over 2008, it’s performing worse than the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Even last year it was basically neck-and-neck with the Grand Cherokee, which is basically a 4WD niche vehicle. For all the hype over the 300, it has never came close to getting within a couple hundred-thousand units of Camry or Accord, and seems to have less staying power than an 80-year-old with an empty bottle of Cialis.

But just to show that this all isn’t a new phenomenon:

Acura Integra and Honda Prelude – Did you realize that the darling of the import-tuner group sold just around 25,000 units annually? Still, this was about 2.5 times the number of Preludes sold each year in 1999 and 2000. Honda/Acura, as well as plenty of publications, still cite how successful these models were at selling in mass quantities. I just wonder how seemingly every last one of these cars seemed to survive so that they can fly down the road behind my house at 2AM with their coffee-can exhausts waking up the neighborhood.

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