2009 December Auto Sales - Special Year-End Edition!

December auto sales provided some reason for hope going into 2010. The December total of 1,030,096 units sold was better than any other month in a grim 2009, save for August, which was fueled by the Cash-for-Clunkers program. December was also a considerable improvement over November - a 38% improvement, to be exact.

Taking the year as a whole, 2009 auto sales fell 21% from the total for 2008 - itself a bad year in which high gas prices in the spring and summer crippled sales of SUVs and pickups, and then the financial/credit crisis in the fall hobbled sales of nearly everything.

But of course this past year wasn't equally bad for everyone - three brands actually sold more cars in 2009 than 2008 - and the sun is beginning to peek through the clouds for most automakers, but not all, as we'll see in an examination of the latest data. - Joe Lorio

(Sources: Automotive News, company press releases)

For these three brands, 2009 must have felt like one long funeral during which they had a major case of the giggles:

All year long, Subaru has been The Little Boxer Engine That Could, chugging along through the wreckage of the 2009 auto market, winning new customers and racking up gains. The Forester was the driving force through most of the year but the Impreza and the new Legacy/Outback have helped, too. Subaru's 15% increase is even more impressive when you realize that, unlike much of the auto industry, Subaru actually was coming off a pretty good year in 2008, too. Oh, and in December, Subaru did 33% better than the prior December, which is more than twice the average sales gain for the month.

The recession, and Cash-for-Clunkers, were gifts to the Korean wonder twins, both of whom enjoyed a healthy sales increase this year. An extremely strong December (with an industry-best 42% increase over last December) suggests that the Korean juggernaut won't be slowing down anytime soon.

These automakers did well by doing less bad than most:

With the industry as a whole down by 21% this year, VW/Audi's relatively modest 5% drop nets them a market share gain. Between the two brands, Audi did a bit worse than Volkswagen, but the two were very close.

Jaguar and Land Rover had a tough year, but improvement toward year's end meant it wasn't as tough as most luxury brands'. Bolstered by revamped Range Rovers and the new LR4, Land Rover's full-year decline was a relatively modest 11%, and the brand enjoyed a gangbusters December, up 37% over the previous year. Jaguar was off 19% for the year and had a more modest - but still better than average - 24% gain in December.

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