• Kyodo

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New car sales in the United States plunged more than 20 percent in 2009 to a 27-year low of 10.43 million vehicles, less than the 12.23 million sold in China during January-November, making the Asian giant the world’s largest car market for the first time, data released by a U.S. research firm showed Tuesday.

That marked a turning point in the global auto industry, which had been led by the Big Three Detroit companies since Ford Motor Co. began mass production in 1913, introducing the world’s first conveyor belt system.

Sales by all automakers operating in the U.S. totaled 10.43 million cars, a slide of 21.2 percent compared with 2008 and the smallest number sold since 1982, according to Autodata Corp.

In 2009, the U.S market was battered by the global recession. The market also shrank due to production cutbacks at General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC following their filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier in the year.

New car sales last year in the U.S. fell by about 2.8 million vehicles compared with 2008 and were 40 percent lower than the peak of 17.4 cars sold in 2000.

In 2009, sales declined 29.7 percent to 2.06 million vehicles at GM, the carmaker with the biggest U.S. operations.

GM was followed by Toyota Motor Corp., which saw a drop of 20.2 percent, or about 447,500 cars, to 1.77 million, registering its sharpest decline in both percentage and volume terms in the past 40 years.

Toyota outsold GM in the U.S. market for the first time, excluding fleet sales, with retail sales of around 1.61 million cars.

Third-ranked Ford saw its U.S. sales fall 15.3 percent to 1.62 million units.

Sales slid for the second year in a row at Toyota, suffering their largest drop in 40 years in both percentage and volume terms.

Honda Motor Co. ranked fourth, with sales dropping 19.5 percent to 1.15 million vehicles, ahead of the 931,402 cars sold by Chrysler, down 35.9 percent.

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