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Japanese automakers say goodbye to disaster-filled 2011

January 04, 2012|By Jerry Hirsch

The big Japanese automakers are happy to see 2011 in their rear-view mirrors.

The Detroit auto companies posted a double-digit sales increase for the year, but the big Japanese brands -- especially Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. -- were hamstrung by a series of natural disasters.

First, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March hit, and then, later in the year, flooding closed parts suppliers in Thailand, disrupting their global auto manufacturing and leaving them with too few cars for the American market.

Toyota saw its sales fall 6.7% to 1.6 million vehicles last year. Its sales in December grew by just a few hundred vehicles to 178,131 compared with the same month a year earlier.

Honda’s annual sales fell 6.8% to 1.1 vehicles. Its December sales fell 19% to 105,230 vehicles.

“The year 2012 can only be up for Honda with a new CR-V on the market and an Accord on the way,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst with auto information company Edmunds.com.

Only Nissan North America seemed to escape the disasters. It sales rose 14.7% to more than 1 million vehicles last year.

“Although 2011 had some unique challenges stemming from natural disasters in Japan and Thailand and uncertain economic conditions around the globe, Nissan managed the crisis better than most, allowing our lineup to gain momentum throughout the year,” said Al Castignetti, Nissan’s sales chief.

Overall, automakers look to have sold about 13 million vehicles in the U.S. last year, according to preliminary numbers.  That was about 10% above the prior year and was the best result since 2008.

Automakers are projecting sales of 13.5 million to 14 million this year.

The Detroit automakers all had a strong year.

Chrysler Group sales rose 26% to nearly 1.4 million. General Motors Co. sold 2.5 million vehicles last year, a 13% gain from the prior year. Ford Motor Co. said its sales in 2011 topped 2.1 million vehicles, an 11% increase from a year earlier.

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