59-Nearing End Game for the Domestic Auto Industry

Consumer Reports recently had a load of bad news for the domestic auto manufacturers. The big car retailers had even worse news.

Consumer Reports issued a report showing that the three domestic automobile manufacturers, GM, Ford and Chrysler, trailed Asian manufacturers in quality. The Chrysler cars were rated very low on the quality scale. The GM cars were hit and miss: some of good quality, others of poor quality. Ford generally rates as the best of the domestic automobile manufacturers in automobile quality. The knock on Ford from Consumer Reports is that its car styling was boring.

We have observed, through thousands of customer interviews that all customers purchase using a hierarchy of criteria: Function, Reliability, Convenience and Price, in that order. (See “How Customers Buy” in the Perspectives section of StrategyStreet.) Automobile styling is a form of Function. Automobile quality is a measure of Reliability. In all Hostile markets, those industries with overcapacity, the winners in the industry succeed on the basis of high Reliability. Function and Price usually mean little because competitors copy any successful Function or Price innovation very quickly. Convenience is important. However, a company that loses its Reliability will also lose its Convenience, even if it is the leader in the industry.

The domestic auto manufacturers have lost their reputation for high Reliability. Now they are losing their Convenience, as the big car retailers write off the value of their domestic branded stores. Recently, the third and the fourth largest automobile retail chains, Sonic and Group 1, wrote off the major portion of their remaining investment in GM, Ford and Chrysler stores. In each case, the dealerships of the big three automakers accounted for less than 20% of the sales in the group. These big retailers are Very Large wholesale customers, those who determine the future of the industry and the Convenience with which retail customers may purchase automobiles. Many of the domestic brand of stores will close, particularly in these large dealership groups. Very few new outlets will open. As a result, the Convenience advantages previously enjoyed by the domestic automobile manufacturers will slowly ebb away. That leaves them with little left to stand on. Neither Function nor Price will save them. Convenience has been their major strong point, but they are losing that as their Reliability slips.

You might ask why Reliability has slipped. The companies made choices that reduced the quality of their automobiles. This is an example of a self-defeating cost reduction, which sinks many competitors in Hostile marketplaces. (See “Success Under Fire: Policies to Prosper in Hostile Times” in StrategyStreet.com.)

Posted 11/10/08


In 2016, Fiat Chrysler severely cut back its production of sedans. GM and Ford followed the same approach later. These US manufacturers have largely abandoned the sedan market, which makes up about 30% of new vehicle sales. In 2018 and 2019, the largest US manufacturers, GM, Ford and Stellantis decided to largely withdraw from the sedan market in the US. The companies faced fierce competition, especially from Japanese and Korean auto manufacturers. Ford no longer offers a sedan. GM offers three sedans across its several brands. Stellantis offers very few sedans as well. Meanwhile, in 2019, recent entrants Hyundai (1986) and Kia (1992) sold over 700,000 and 600,000 vehicles respectively in the US market.

While the US based auto manufacturers struggled, their Asian counterparts continued to gain share.  As other competitors, particularly the Koreans, have grown their market shares with high quality products, Toyota’s US market share has stagnated.  In 2008, Toyota’s US market share was 14%.  By the end of 2021 its market share was 12.75%.  In 2020, Toyota still led the global market with a share of 8.5%.  Volkswagen followed at 7.8%.  Hyundai was 3rd at 5.4%.  Ford was 4th at 5.1% and Honda was 5th at 4.8%.

The shifts in market share have had little effect on concentration among retail dealers of automobiles. In 2009, the industry sold only a little over 10 million cars. By 2019, that number was closer to 17 million cars. In 2009 there were 20.5 thousand light vehicle dealerships.  That number fell to around 18,000 in 2012 and has remained relatively stable around that number through 2021. In 2021, 93% of dealerships had 5 or fewer stores, only 2% had more than 10 stores.

Why don’t failing companies and their capacity simply close down and leave the industry? HERE is an explanation



If you face a competitive marketplace, read these blogs. We wrote them to help you make better decisions on segments, products, prices and costs based on the experience of companies in over 85 competitive industries. Much of the world suffered a severe recession from 2008 to 2011. During that time, we wrote more than 270 blogs using publicly available information and our Strategystreet system to project what would happen in various companies and industries who were living in those hostile environments. In 2022, we updated each of these blogs to describe what later took place. You can use these updated blogs to see how the Strategystreet system works and how it can lead you to better decisions.