Chevrolet Silverado
Chevrolet
The Chevrolet Silverado has seen sales decline 2.4 percent in 2007.
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updated 12/20/2007 4:37:37 PM ET 2007-12-20T21:37:37

The Ford F-150 has quite a track record, and we don't necessarily mean on-the-road performance.

Rather, it's been the country's best-selling pickup for 30 years, and the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. for 26 of those.

Yet if you look at recent sales trends, the F-150's days at the top seem numbered — sales of the iconic F-Series, and of the market's other two best-selling full-size pickups, are on the industry's steepest decline. The automaker sold about 4,200 fewer F-Series trucks this October than last. To put it in perspective, that monthly difference alone is more than many luxury car models sell in an entire year.

"The weakness in truck sales isn't going away anytime soon," for reasons that are rooted in the housing slump, says Dana Johnson, vice president and chief economist for Dallas-based Comerica Bank. During a downturn, penny-pinching construction companies stop building their fleets with pickups. What's more, homeowners have a reduced ability to extract equity and make major vehicle purchases.

Then there is the fuel factor. John Teahen, senior editor at Automotive News, agrees that sales of large, gas-guzzling pickups will keep sliding downward, because with sustained high fuel prices, fewer people will be buying them for personal use. This has likely affected sales of other cars on our best-selling list, including the Chevrolet Silverado, which has experienced a 2.4 percent sales decline this year; and the Dodge Ram, a whopping 29.3 percent.

But a rise in gas prices alone doesn't necessarily mean shoppers will postpone a purchase or buy a smaller vehicle, such as the Nissan Altima or the Honda Civic. Instead, says Johnson, they'll be watching their wallets more in the process.

Downward dogs
This has spelled bad news for the luxury cars on our list of Worst-Selling Vehicles Of 2007. Those at the bottom — the Cadillac XLR, Porsche Boxster, Jaguar S-Type and X-Type and Audi A8 and S8 — are down significantly from the same period (the first 10 months) of 2006.

Other models that weren't on our list of worst sellers but had sales downturns this year included the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Honda Element, and Volkswagen Passat.

Generally, luxury vehicles sell best when they're "fresh" — either in the first year they're on the market or the first year after they're significantly restyled. And according to Teahen, the "mainstream" luxury vehicles like those on our list are much more susceptible to swings in the market, as opposed to ultra-exclusive "boutique" luxury vehicles, such as Rolls-Royces and Maybachs.

For instance, the Cadillac XLR, starting at about $80,000, often appeals to a much more limited group of buyers than a $25,000 Chevrolet Malibu, and the crowd that buys vehicles like the XLR is sometimes stretching to make that luxury statement. It, and other brands like it, such as Jaguar and Hummer, Teahen says, fall into the "middle-income splurge" category that's hit harder by economic hiccups.

"At times like this, the car stands as the classic deferrable purchase," says Johnson. "You just make the car last a little longer."

Buyers' market
Johnson, who compiles a quarterly Auto Affordability Index that evaluates consumer spending on new vehicles and the terms of new-car financing, says cars are expected to become more affordable, given the buyers market we're experiencing.

"Right now, there's an environment where car sales are weak," says Johnson. "So there's pressure for incentives and maintaining market share."

Paul Taylor, chief economist for the National Automotive Dealers Association, says that, with interest rates starting to creep up, it makes sense to consider a lease if affordability is an issue. Recently, several promotional leases were offered by automakers intent on moving the metal.

The best example of this involves the Toyota Prius, the poster child for efficient hybrid powertrain technology. The current generation of the Prius was introduced in 2004. Yet Toyota applied its first incentives — including a bargain lease offer of as low as $249 per month — earlier this year. Sales of the model were higher than they've been before, up by nearly 68% when compared with the first 10 months of last year. The Prius was just a few spots short of making it onto our best-selling vehicles list. Maybe next year.

So-called "crossover vehicles," or CUVs, are also leaving lots. Rather than being related to pickups or commercial vehicles like traditional SUVs, these vehicles combine sleeker, more modern looks and car-like road manners without sacrificing the utility of an SUV — and they've been the fastest-growing vehicle segment in recent years.

Teahen says crossover sales for the first 10 months of 2007 are up a whopping 24 percent from the same period last year. By the same gauge, pickups are down 5 percent, minivans are down 21 percent, and truck-based SUVs have fallen 6.5 percent. And according to data from Ward's, CUVs grew from about 14 percent of the total new-vehicle sales in 2002 to nearly 28 percent in 2006.

One of those CUVs, the Honda CR-V, jumped into the top-10 sellers so far this year, to be included in our list of best-selling Vehicles.

An trend that's not so apparent by looking at the best- and worst-sellers, according to Teahen, is the continued slide of U.S. automakers. The "Big Three," including all the domestic brands of General Motors, Ford Motor, and Chrysler) combined sales are down 7.5 percent in the first 10 months of 2007, vs. the same period in 2006.

That's good news for imports: "For those sales to be down by that amount," Teahen says, "import-badge cars must be up nicely."

Teahen says that it's largely a case of shoppers' perceptions and impressions having not yet caught up with reality. By most gauges of quality and reliability, many of the domestic-brand models have caught back up, but it could be a long road ahead before sales bounce back.

The methodology
To find our best- and worst-selling vehicles of 2007, we looked at year-to-date sales data on a model-by-model basis, as compiled by Automotive News, which relies on regular sales reports from automakers. Finding the best-sellers was easy, but since model-year transitions vary depending on the manufacturer and model, when picking out the worst-sellers, we looked past models that only sold for part of the year or were being introduced or phased out. With each respective vehicle, best or worst, we consulted data for the same 10-month period for 2006 and indicate the percentage change over the year period.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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