Winners and Losers in 2008? Not What You Might Think

By David Thomas  on January 6, 2009

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You will be punished with many news stories about the sad state of the auto industry this week — just in time for the Detroit auto show opening to the media on Sunday — but none of those stories will break down the numbers like we do below. You see, after months of hearing that no one wants to buy American and no one wants big SUVs or trucks, it appears someone forgot to tell that to consumers.

American trucks still dominate the sales leader lists, as we told you earlier, comprising three of the top 10 sellers for 2008. Meanwhile, only two cars on the list, the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, get 35 mpg or better on the highway.

So what were the biggest winners this year in terms of sales boosts? While cars like the Honda Fit and Chevy Malibu saw 40% increases in sales year-over-year, the big winner may surprise you.

The redesigned Lexus LX 570 SUV — with its 383-hp V-8, 14 mpg combined mileage rating and nearly $80,000 price tag — saw the biggest year-over-year boost in sales of any model, with an increase of nearly 220%. Its Toyota sibling the Sequoia, with its 15 mpg combined rating, saw a healthy 31% bump in sales. Now, these figures are a tad out of whack because these vehicles’ overall sales numbers are lower than more traditional cars; only 7,915 LX 570s were sold in 2008. For comparison, Mercedes’ GL-Class sold 23,328 units in 2008, down 11.6% from 2007, while the more affordable Chevy Suburban sold 54,058 units, down 35.4%.

Still, the fact remains that millions of people bought trucks and SUVs in a down economy with rollercoaster swings in gas prices. Even so, the Ford F-Series and Chevy Silverado were down nearly 25% each — but then, the gas-thrifty Toyota RAV4 was also down 21%.

We’re not going to ignore the fact that many SUVs saw huge drops in sales, but that’s also coming off extremely high records in sales the year before. Eight out of 10 of the vehicles with the biggest drops in sales in 2008 were SUVs or trucks. Below is a list of the top 10 cars, trucks and SUVs that saw the biggest increases and decreases for 2008.

GM has two of the biggest gainers, with the redesigned Chevy Malibu and Pontiac Vibe both seeing healthy sales in 2008. The Subaru Forester’s spike in sales helped make Subaru the only automaker in 2008 that saw an overall sales increase.

*We only looked at cars with full production runs in both 2007 and 2008. Many of the biggest losers were obviously discontinued models. Those aren’t included here, and nor are cars that were introduced in 2007 without a full year of sales, which would skew their 2008 gains higher.

Biggest Decrease in Sales in 2008

  • Mercury Mountaineer: -55.6%, 10,596 total units sold
  • Hummer H3: -52.4%, 20,681
  • Volvo S60: -51.6%, 8,966
  • Hummer H2: -51%, 6,095
  • Dodge Nitro: -51%, 36,368
  • Nissan Armada: -50.4%, 15,685
  • Nissan Titan: -48.3%, 34,053
  • Toyota FJ Cruiser: -48.2%, 28,668
  • Chrysler 300: -48%, 62,352
  • Nissan Pathfinder: -46.8%, 33,555

Biggest Sales Increases in 2008

  • Lexus LX 570: +219.7%, 7,915 total units sold
  • Dodge Viper: +169%, 1,172
  • Honda Fit: +40.9%, 79,794
  • Chevy Malibu: +38.9%, 178,253
  • Subaru Forester: +36.4%, 60,748
  • Toyota Sequoia: +31.5%, 30,693
  • Pontiac Vibe: +25.2%, 46,551
  • Toyota Yaris: +20.3%, 103,328
  • Toyota Land Cruiser: +16.5%, 3,801
  • Mercedes C-Class: +13.8%, 72,471

Late Figures

  • Mazda 5: +60%, 22,021 total units sold
  • Hyundai Sonata: +24%, 145,568


Managing Editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon.  Email David


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