CC Chart: Market Share For Major Car Types, 1956-1970 – Frantic Fragmentation

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I’ve finally completed my spreadsheet project of car sales per year by models (eg: Chevelle) and types (eg: mid size) through 1970, which makes it much easier to chart the numbers to visualize the dramatic fragmentation of the US car market starting in the second half of the 1950s.

Of course the most biggest change is the huge drop in market share (%) of full size cars. I already used that in my post, “Who Killed The Big American Car?“, which chronicled its decline from 1950 to 1996. But I lacked the corresponding stats for those category of cars that caused that decline. No more.

Here we see the huge impacts from the compacts, starting in 1960 with the arrival of the Corvair, Falcon, Valiant and Comet to augment the already growing sales of Ramblers from 1958 and Larks from 1959. Then in 1961, another wave of GM’s “senior compacts” (Tempest, F85, Special) along with the Lancer. Compact sales peaked that year (1961) with a 31.3% market share.

But the compact surge was short-lived; the first so-called “mid sized” cars, the Ford Fairlane and Mercury Meteor arrived in 1962. Despite the arrival of the Chevy II that same year, the compact’s market share slipped to 30% and then tumbled rapidly after that.

The arrival of GM’s A-Body mid sized cars in 1964 was a big factor in that, as well as a temporary upswing in full-size cars’ market share in 1963 and 1964. With an increase in wheelbase and size of the Rambler Classic in 1963, it achieved mid-size status; the reclassification of Chrysler’s Plymouth Belvedere and Dodge Coronet as mid-size in 1965, and the move up to mid-size by the Comet in 1966, that segment was poised for further growth.

The other major blow to the compacts came from the unexpected huge success of the Mustang in 1965, augmented by the Barracuda and the Camaro and Firebird in 1967 in the pony car segment. Compacts really suffered during the peak pony car years (1965-1969).

The third factor depressing compacts were the imports. After being beaten down in 1960-1961 by the compacts, they were stuck at around 5-7% from 1961-1965, but began their relentless march upwards in 1966, to 19% in 1970.

The sudden upsurge of the compacts’ market share in 1970 is mostly due to the huge success of the 1970 Maverick, whose 580k sales over an extended 18 month model year created a big bulge that year. That subsided in 1971, but compacts’ market share stayed well higher into the seventies than it had been during their bottom in 1967-1969.

Of course the subcompacts arrived in 1971, which changed the picture further.

Next time we’ll take a closer look at the compacts by individual brands.