February 12, 2006
GM, Ford spar over No. 1 designation
By Kevin Krolicki
ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - In a feud that recalls the glory days when Detroit's top car makers dominated the U.S auto market, Ford Motor Co and General Motors Corp. sparred on Sunday over bragging rights to the top-selling auto brand for 2005.
Although both Ford and GM have lost market share to Asian rivals last year and were forced into plant closures and wide-ranging cost cutting, the claim to the top-selling U.S. brand remains an important point of pride for both companies.
The last time Chevrolet eclipsed Ford as the top-selling U.S. brand was in 1986, when the pair commanded almost 60 percent of the U.S. market. As of last year, that combined share had sunk to about 45 percent.
GM, eager to seize on any good news, has been running an advertising campaign since last month that trumpets Chevrolet as America's top-selling brand and encourages buyers to conduct their own "head-to-head" vehicle comparisons with rivals.
But Ford executives told a group of its dealers gathered at an industry conference in Orlando, Florida on Sunday that final vehicle registration numbers for 2005 showed its own brand had narrowly edged past Chevrolet.
Ford plans to send a letter to GM this week challenging the marketing claim it has been making for Chevrolet, a company representative said.
Ford spokeswoman Sara Tatchio said the company's Sunday announcement, based on data from the firm R.L. Polk, was greeted by applause from its dealers. "It's really good news for our dealers," she told Reuters. "They're out on the front lines and it's a matter of pride."
A representative for R.L. Polk could not be immediately reached for comment.
Ford said updated Polk data showed Ford with 2,630,000 registered sales, compared with 2,625,000 for Chevrolet.
Sales data released by the manufacturers last month showed Chevrolet sold 2,669,932 vehicles, a 3 percent decline, while Ford sold 2,648,814, an almost 5 percent drop.
GM, which has cited Polk data in ads touting Chevy as the year's best-selling brand, dismissed the controversy.
Mark LaNeve, GM's sales and marketing chief, said the company would stick to its marketing. "We're 100 percent (certain) that our numbers are correct, and it sounds like a lot of nonsense to me. I don't know what numbers they're looking at," LaNeve told reporters after meeting with a group of GM dealers.
LaNeve, who has told analysts that market leadership was important in shaping the consumer view of Chevrolet, said the company's recent ad campaign had been a success.
GM's television and Internet advertising campaign championing Chevy's success directs viewers to the auto Web site Edmunds.com.
Edmunds.com President Jeremy Anwyl said the number of visitors to the site who had requested a quote on a GM vehicle had nearly tripled since the campaign began in January. "For them it's been pretty positive," Anwyl told Reuters.
Meanwhile, GM spokesman Jeff Kuhlman said registration data for the full year could be skewed by sales from 2004 registering last year or by year-end sales slipping into this year's registered vehicle count.
"At the end of the day, I guess it's a bigger deal to them than they said it was," Kuhlman said.