As the major Japan-based OEMs release their sales and production numbers for H1, 2009, it does seem as though the worst of the crises for the big three in their home market may have passed. Nissan in particular will be greatly relieved not to have been overtaken by archrival Honda in terms of sales in Japan. It was a close-run thing but Nissan managed to stay ahead in the first six months, if only by some 10,000 units (including mini-vehicles). Looking to the remainder of 2009, the signs are not good for Nissan, however. Its domestic market sales fell by 25% in H1, while those for Honda were down by only 15%.
Two other manufacturers reporting sales and production numbers in recent days were Mitsubishi Motors (MMC) and Fuji Heavy. Anyone unaware of just how troubled a company MMC has become might be astonished to learn that in June, as in May, MMC (13,321 vehicles) was again outsold by Subaru (14,256). This means that for the first half of 2009, there has been a change to the pecking order, with Subaru (83,957) now a bigger brand at home than Mitsubishi (77,342). The new Legacy is selling relatively well, offsetting declines for some of Subaru’s smaller cars but it’s more that buyers are uninterested in so many uncompetitive Mitsubishi vehicles. The eight-year old Colt, ten-year old Town Box and eleven-year old Minica are typical of MMC’s aged line-up.
Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC), of course, continues to lead the Japanese market (it boasts of a record June share of 46.3%) and with a fall of only 12.6% for June, its performance at home has at last stabilised after a worrying few months earlier in the year. This is thanks largely to government incentives which continue to attract record numbers of buyers to the second and third generation Prius hybrid hatchbacks.
While TMC appears to be recovering somewhat in Japan and remains far and away the number one vehicle manufacturer there, at a global level, it may no longer be the biggest OEM by production volume. For the first half of 2009, the Japanese giant’s own data show its worldwide production fell by 40.6% to 2,967,964 vehicles. So has General Motors taken back the decades-long lead it held until 2008? Indeed it has, production totaling a rounded up 3.55 million vehicles in H1. The picture may change by year end, but if it does, it won’t be Toyota ousting GM.
Volkswagen (VW), which prefers to report ‘deliveries’ rather than pure production numbers, notes that these totaled 3,265,200 cars and trucks in the first half of 2009, a fall of only 5.0% thanks to the surging German, Chinese and Brazilian car markets. If recent trends continue, the VW Group might well attain its stated goals for 2018, nine years early. Surpassing Toyota in terms of net profit and global production in 2009 suddenly looks like a strong possibility and unless GM begins to ramp up its North American plants to unexpected levels, it too might just be overtaken by Ferdinand Piëch’s ever-expanding automotive empire.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.