Which American Brands are being cut?

These vehicles have experienced the steepest declines in United States sales over the past 5 years. They probably on their way out and fast!

Chrysler has announced that it will discontinue three models--the PT Cruiser, the Chrysler Aspen and the Dodge Durango. This is after it already cut four models in 2008. The announcement came as part of a request from Chrysler and G.M. for $18.6 billion in federal loans to avoid bankruptcy. You've heard of tightening the belt. Well it's also called cutting off fat. It hurts, but it's necessary and will help us get through this.

But there are lots of automakers with brands that don't sell. In fact, several brands and models haven't sold well even when the economy was good. Now with car sales at all time lows--down 18.3% to 13.2 million units last year--those slow-selling cars' days are running out.

Brands ranging from Buick to Mitsubishi are dying in North America after steep downward sales during the last 5 years.

Behind the Statistics

To create the list of the fastest-dying car brands, Forbes used year-over-year sales records from Auto Data, a research firm in Woodcliff Lake, N.J. Forbes evaluated the percentage of increase or decrease in sales for each brand in the U.S. market since 2003, then calculated the fluctuation to determine which brands had the steepest downward trends. Their conclusions point out the five brands with the largest declines and the two worst-selling models for each of those brands. We excluded from our list brands that have already been announced as discontinued.

Buick had an accumulated sales decline of 81% since 2003. Its LaCrosse and Lucerne sedans could be on their way out, with sales down 66% and 43%, respectively, in January 2009.

Discontinuations were especially tough on automakers since the lines that shut down were often very popular. The PT Cruiser, for example, was a best seller and was awarded North American Car of the Year in 2001. Likewise, GM announced yesterday that it will cease production of vehicles under the Saturn brand by 2012 and that it will drastically cut the models for sale under the Pontiac brand.

The fate of GM's Saab and Hummer, both up for sale, hangs in the balance as well.

Surprise

When we excluded from the list the brands already slated for shutdown, there remained some surprising entries. Tata Motors' Jaguar came close to the top, with a total accumulated decline in sales of 112% since 2003.

Fortunately for Jaguar the decline in sales can be attributed to Tata's decision to reposition the brand up-market, for a deliberate reduction in sales.

Saab, however, could end differently. GM's Swedish subsidiary had a total accumulated sales decline of 70.3% since 2003. If GM can't sell the brand, it may just close it down. It’s a shame but what can you do?

Fritz Henderson, GM vice chairman told reporters: "We are going to focus in the U.S. on four key core brands: Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC." "The Saab decision is linked with a global strategic review of the brand."

Unfortunately, the consequence is that it's not just car production that is being cut. Chrysler fired 32,000 workers last year and reduced fixed costs by $3.1 billion. Its current proposal further reduces fixed costs by $700 million, and lays off 3,000 workers. Chrysler Chairman Robert Nardelli says he's "confident" Chrysler will succeed, due to the extreme measures it is taking.

It will mean fewer American brands on the road in the near future. Taxpayers will pay the bill while automakers determine which brands make the cut.

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