On 31 December 1980 Japan was declared the world’s biggest car maker. That year the Japanese produced 12.7 million vehicles out of a world total of 48 million, knocking US car manufacturers into second place. In addition, one in four cars sold in the USA was Japanese.
The US car industry was in serious trouble. The Chrysler Corporation was saved from bankruptcy in 1980 by a $1.5 billion government-guaranteed loan.
Ford and General Motors were also deep in debt. The previous year’s oil crisis, causing sharp rises in fuel prices, encouraging people to buy smaller cars. American manufacturers were unprepared, so Nissan, Toyota and Honda grabbed a large share of the market.
In 1986, 16.5 million used cars were purchased in the US at the average price of $5,833. In 1986, over 158 million Americans had a driver’s license. That same year, 22% of them were involved in a motor vehicle accident, and only about 30% consistently wore seatbelts. In 1985, 8,449,000 speeding tickets were issued.
In 1987, Americans bought 10.2 million new automobiles, nearly 30% of them imports. The average new car price was $12,585, and the most popular cars were the Ford Escort, the Ford Taurus, and the Honda Accord. More Americans than ever before were buying vans and trucks, with a record 4.6 million of them sold in 1987.