US: foreign carmakers lag behind the revival image

While the Big Three Detroit-based carmakers General Motors, Ford and Chrysler rode the surge in demand to boost their sales numbers, almost all of the country’s foreign brands underperformed the wider market.

Low interest rates, rising consumer confidence, positive economic growth and a low oil price has spurred a boom in sales of powerful, large pick-up trucks used across the US in farms, mines or just as an everyday vehicle. Those trucks are the domain of the Big Three, not of Asian and European automakers.

Foreign brands that design smaller cars geared toward Europe or Asia have in recent years brought many of them with minor modifications to the US, betting on a shift in consumer tastes towards more economical cars. Also, in the US, product cycles are much shorter than in Europe or Asia, where cars can continue to sell strongly for more than five years.

As a result, as the sales boom gathered pace, foreign operators were caught with old models or products that failed to hit the sweet spot with customers. Nissan, VW and Hyundai are the sixth, seventh and eight largest carmakers in the US by sales, and sold almost 2 million cars between them last year. But of the three, only Nissan managed not to lose market share in 2013. And that was because it stole sales from Hyundai and VW, not from its US competitors. A lack of relevant products has also derailed smaller foreign brands such as Volvo, which sold about 62,000 cars in the US last year, down from a peak of more than double that.

Via Financial Times