Toyota vehicles waiting to be picked up by dealers at the Port of Long Beach. (Tim Rue / Bloomberg )
Automakers ended the year with one of the strongest U.S. sales months in years in December and the industry posted its best annual sales results since 2007.
Ford’s F-series trucks, Chevrolet’s Camaro, Toyota’s Camry and Honda’s CR-V were the best-selling models their segments of the market.
Automakers sold about 14.5 million vehicles in the domestic market last year and could sell between 15 million and 15.5 million next year.
“I think the underlying fundamentals of the economy are very sound,” said Mark Reuss, president of General Motors' North American operations. “Access to money is sound, you see employment steadily increasing. … I think that's pretty upbeat.”
GM’s Chevrolet Camaro narrowly edged out the Ford Mustang – 84,391 versus 82,995 - to be the top-selling muscle car in the market.
But when it comes to trucks, Ford was once again king. With sales of 645,316, its F-series pickup was the best-selling vehicle of any type in America last year.
The F-series easily outsold the Chevrolet Silverado, which with sales of 418,312 was the second-best-selling truck. Toss in the GMC Sierra, which is essentially the same vehicle as the Silverado but with fancier trim, and the Ford F-series was still ahead by about 70,000 units.
Once again, Toyota had the best-selling passenger car. It sold 404,886 Camrys, making it the top-selling car and No. 3 among all vehicles. Honda sold 331,872 Accords and 317,909 Civics last year.
Honda’s CR-V small sport-utility vehicle took the crown in that segment. Honda sold 281,652 CR-Vs while Ford’s Escape finished at 261,008.
In advanced technology vehicles, Chevrolet’s Volt retained an edge over Nissan’s Leaf. GM sold 23,462 of the plug-in hybrid Volts last year, three times the level of 2011.
Nissan sold 9,819 of the all-electric Leafs, just 145 more than the prior year. Later this month it will announce improvements to the vehicle that the automaker hopes will improve sales. Sales of other all-electric cars combined were in the low thousands.
Volkwagen was king of diesel vehicle sales. The automaker sold 90,295 diesels in 2012, up 55 from 2011. Diesels now account for one of every five VW sales.
In other notable year-end results, it’s clear that Ford still has a lot of work to do with its Lincoln brand. Lincoln sales fell 4% to just 82,150 last year. Lincoln has just started to revamp its lineup and introduce new models. GM’s Cadillac, the other domestic luxury brand, also saw sales fall, to 149,762 vehicles, down 2%.
Meanwhile, German luxury brand Audi came on strong. Audi sold 139,310 new cars and SUVs to eclipse the sales record set a year earlier by 18.5%. Audi sales in the U.S. have increased 68.4% since 2009.
Nissan was the only major automaker to report that its December U.S. sales declined, falling almost 2% to 99,290 vehicles from a year earlier. But for the year Nissan, including its Infiniti brand, sold more than 1.1 million vehicles, up 10% from 2011. It was also the first time the Nissan brand saw U.S. annual sales top 1 million.
GM's December sales grew 5% to 245,733 vehicles, while Chrysler Group's grew 10% to 152,367 vehicles, marking Chrysler's best December since 2007. Ford had the smallest increase of the domestic automakers, with December sales up 2% to 214,222 vehicles.
Toyota said its U.S. sales grew 9% in December to 194,143 vehicles. Honda’s December sales rose 26.2% to 132,774 vehicles.
Hyundai said its December U.S. sales rose 17% to 59,435 vehicles compared to the same month a year earlier.
“A growing economy, an aging vehicle fleet, new products and widespread credit availability support industry sales gains,” said Efraim Levy, an analyst with S&P Capital IQ.
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