Rows of Nissan Motor Co. vehicles sit lined up for processing after being… (Bloomberg )
Automakers had their best U.S. sales since 2008 as the industry continues to recover from its recession-caused tailspin.
Auto information company Edmunds.com projected that the industry will have sold 12.8 million new vehicles in 2011, about a 10% increase over last year’s volume.
That would be the best since automakers sold 13.2 million vehicles in 2008. But the industry has shrunk considerably. From 1999 through 2007, automakers sold 16 million to 17 million vehicles annually in the U.S.
December sales looked to have hit about 1.3 million, or an annualized sales pace of about 14 million, one of the strongest monthly selling rates in years.
Edmunds estimated that 2012 new car sales will reach 13.6 million.
“Sales will rise due to the continued release of pent-up demand from buyers who have delayed new vehicle purchases since the recession,” said Lacey Plache, Edmunds’ chief economist.
Plache said that an improved selection of vehicles – as automakers recover from production disruptions caused by natural disasters including the Japanese earthquake and floods in Thailand – as well as loosening consumer credit will help push sales higher.
“But the continued slow pace of the economic recovery and uncertainty in the months leading up to the U.S. presidential election will constrain sales growth,” Plache said.
Jonathan Browning, chief executive of Volkswagen of America, said the automaker expects industry sales to come in somewhere between 13.5 million to 14 million vehilcles this year.
“We believe the industry continues to show signs of recovery. The consumers out there generally think this is a good time to be buying vehicles,” Browning said.
But Browning noted that continued economic uncertainty caused by the European credit crisis could cast a shadow on the U.S. economy and hurt auto sales.
A resurgent Volkswagen sold 324,402 of its VW brand vehicles in the U.S., a 26.3% gain over 2010 and its best year in America since 2002. The company was helped by new models of its Jetta, Passat and Beetle.
General Motors Co. sold 2.5 million vehicles last year, a 13% gain from the prior year.
“We were able to grow all four of our brands and reestablish Chevrolet as a force to be reckoned with in the passenger car business,” said Don Johnson, vice president of U.S. sales operations. “This gives us a very solid foundation to compete in a market that we expect to keep growing.”
Chrysler Group sales rose 26% to nearly 1.4 million.
Ford Motor Co. said its sales in 2011 topped 2.1 million vehicles, an 11% increase from a year earlier.
“The year finished on a high note, with industry sales momentum strengthening as the year came to a close,” said Ken Czubay, Ford’s sales and marking chief. “We saw Ford sales strengthen as well, posting our best December retail sales month since 2005.”
He said the Ford label was America’s best selling brand in 2011, topping Chevrolet and Toyota.