The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, based on a GM-Europe design, went on sale in limited numbers a year ago. Plentiful supplies of all mdoels finally were available last fall.(Photo: FPI Studios)
U.S. automakers wrapped up 2012 by posting their best sales
performance in years, but it still was far below what was normal only
five years ago, prior to the recession.
All automakers combined
sold 14.5 million new cars and trucks in the U.S. during 2012, up 13.4%
from 2011. Detroit's slice of that total was 44.5%, according to sales
tracker Autodata. In 2011, the Detroit 3 had 46.9% of a smaller market,
Autodata figures show, and sold half-a-million fewer vehicles.
have improved steadily for four years, making the auto recovery seem
solid and certain. But prior to the recession-affected period that began
in 2008, annual new-vehicle sales in the U.S. routinely ranged from 16
million to 17 million.
That makes 2012's 14.5 million seem like a
joke. But it's the car companies having the laugh. They were able to
shed so many workers and close enough plants because of the recession
that they now can make more money on fewer sales.
Even so, sales
continued to rise last year as the average age of cars on the road hit
11 years and some buyers simply couldn't continue nursing their old
vehicles. Other buyers felt like the worst was past and decided a new
car, with modern safety gear and much-improved mileage, made sense.
More important, an increasing number of buyers could get loans, even though lending remains tighter than before the recession.
the Detroit 3 in December, Chrysler starred. It reported a a 10% jump
in December sales, in an industry up an average 9% for the month,
according to Autodata. General Motors' sales in December were up a
modest 4.9%, and Ford's rose 1.9%.
Detroit makers weren't the
stars, Chrysler's strong performance notwithstanding. In fact, Ford and
GM lost market share for the year. Ford fell to 15.5% from 16.8% a year
ago, considered a hefty tumble in the car business. GM dropped more, to
17.9% from 2011's 19.6%.
Chrysler rose to 11.1% of new vehicle sales, from 10.6% a year earlier.
December standout: German automaker Volkswagen.
sales rocketed 35.4%, to 44,005, on the strength of its popular Jetta
and Passat. Sales of the mid-size Passat in December were more than
double the year-ago tally, VW says, but it still was outsold by the
compact Jetta, VW's best-selling U.S. model.
Volkswagen said it was its best December since 1973.
wasn't an uncommon performance for VW during 2012. The maker ended the
year with a 3% share of the new-vehicle market, up from 2.5%.
major automakers also closed out the year with solid, if unexplosive,
tallies. Toyota says its December sales rose 9% from a year earlier, a
surprisingly modest gain considering the big year that the company has
had. Hyundai sales surged 17% from a year ago.
Analysts at car-buying research site Edmunds.com had forecast a 9.6% increase in December sales from a year ago.
Looking specifically at Detroit automakers:
sales growth, which lagged most competitors, was helped by new models,
among them the Buick Verano, and the Chevrolet Spark, Sonic and Cruze.
Sales of the Volt extended-range electric sales jumped 72%. "In a
strong year for the auto industry overall, GM struggled to hold up its
end in 2012," says analyst Jessica Caldwell of Edmunds.com. "Its
year-over-year growth is well under the industry average, and the
company couldn't hold on to market share gains it enjoyed in 2011. The
biggest disappointment is Cadillac." Still, Cadillac was GM's biggest
gainer, up 12.2% in December largely on new ATS compact and XTS large
sedans, continuing the momentum of those new designs. GM says its
overall retail sales were up 38% from November, a key point to car
companies because retail sales are higher-profit sales to individuals,
rather than the discounted sales to fleet buyers such as rental-car
- Chrysler Group, majority owned
by Italy's Fiat, credited its new Dart compact sedan with a strong
December showing. Dart racked up its best monthly sales performance
since it went on sale in June. Also contributing to Chrysler Group's 10%
increase were the Fiat 500, Jeep Wrangler, Dodge Challenger, Dodge
Journey, and Ram Cargo Van. Each set a sales record for the month.
had its best December since 2006 despite only a 1.9% sales increase.
Although its received mostly positive reviews, its mid-size Fusion saw a
nearly 11% drop in sales and the Escape small SUV was down 21.3%. Both
vehicles have been the subject of embarrassing recalls this year. Even
Ford's popular and best-selling F-series trucks didn't move fast off
dealer lots in December, despite heavy promotion. Sales rose just 0.7%.
The full-year gain is a more respectable 10.3%.
Among the European automakers:
Porsche, which sells about one in four of its vehicles in the U.S.,
sold a record 35,043 cars and SUVs here last year, a 21% increase over
the previous year. December sales jumped 61%.
Audi had the best year and best month in its history in the U.S.
market, driven by its A7 and A8 sedans, Q5 crossover and TDI diesels.
For the full year, Audi sold 139,310 new cars and SUVs, up 18.5% from a
year earlier. Sales hit 14,841 in December, up 17.3% from a year
- BMW and Mercedes-Benz both say they hit record sales in
the U.S. last year, but BMW walked away with the statistic that
mattered above all others: beating its German luxury archrival -- again.
BMW says it had sales of 347,583, an increase of 13.8% over 2011,
eclipsing the number of vehicles sold in its previous peak year of 2007.
BMW includes the Mini brand as well and it beat Mercedes on sales last
year as well. Mercedes-Benz says it sold 305,072 vehicles, a 15.4%
increase. It includes the Smart car and the Sprinter commercial van.
When it came to GM, Wall Street liked some of what it saw.
of GM's very profitable Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size
pickups were 29.5% of GM sales in December, according to Ryan Brinkman,
auto industry analyst at J.P. Morgan, which was a "substantially richer
mix than the 23.8% seen in November and higher also vs. the 28.5% seen
in October," he said in a note to clients.
He also noted that
GM's troubling overstock of vehicles fell significantly. He calculated
that total GM inventories fell to a 76-day supply in December, vs. 106
days in November. And its stockpile of pickups dropped to 222,000 at the
end of December, an 80-day supply, vs. 106-days a month earlier.
are especially important. GM is about to launch redesigned Silverado
and Sierra trucks and if it has too many old ones on hand, it might have
to sell those off at big discounts, hurting initial sales of the new
GM said earlier today that the month's totals would make
it the first to sell 1 million vehicles in its home market that were
rated 30 mpg or more on the highway.
"In 2013, we'll introduce new
diesel, eAssist and plug-in vehicles in the United States and expand
the availability of turbocharged four-cylinder engines. This will give
us the most technologically diverse range of fuel-efficient cars and
crossovers in the industry," said Mark Reuss, president of GM North
First diesel is to be in the Cruze compact, according to GM CEO Dan Akerson.
eAssist is GM's name for a mild hybrid system used in some Buick and
Chevrolet models, including versions of the Chevy Malibu that's pictured