October U.S. auto sales are in the books, as every carmaker who sells vehicles has now reported.
Some of the notables were Chrysler, with a 10.2 percent increase over last year, its best October since 2007; Volkswagen, with a 20.4 percent surge from last year; and Toyota, whose nearly 16 percent uptick year-over-year shows that the biggest Japanese automaker is poised to regain the market share it lost to General Motors and Ford after the tsunami and earthquake last year.
The real story is how tightly bunched GM, Ford, and Toyota are in terms of U.S. market share. They aren't separated by much more than a point or two: GM has about 18 percent, Ford has 15-and-a-half; and Toyota has about 14.
That's more than a third of the market right there. The remaining two-thirds is being fought over, at various price levels, by no less than 17 automakers. Okay, you can take Ferrari and Maserati out of the competition — neither marque sells more than 300 cars a month. But other companies are aiming to compete and compete vigorously, if the world's most competitive auto market.
And some are competing very, very badly. Mitsubishi and Suzuki, for example, sold vehicles in the low three digits in October. Mitsubishi's market share in less than half a percent, while Suzuki's, at 0.2 percent, is within the margin of potential statistical error.
Newer arrivals, like Hyundai/Kia, as well as returning conquerers, namely VW, want to take that share, no matter how small it is.
So as the U.S auto market recovers, on a path to see 15 million vehicles sold in 2012, the question moving forward isn't whether you should sell cars here — you should — but whether once you get here, can you can afford to stay?