Auto sales finished the year up by 10% over 2010, and a particularly strong 4th quarter has manufacturers optimistic for 2012. For the month of December, the increase was 9% over 2010, which doesn't sound like a big finish, but that year-ago December was actually one of the best months of the year. Better to look at the annualized selling rate. There we see that this December's pace would translate to a full-year total of about 13.5 million units; that's just behind November for the best performance of 2011. (The actual 2011 full-year total was 12.8 million new cars and trucks sold.)
Despite a tough economy, the hope is that pent-up demand could keep the new-car market percolating along at the same healthy clip we've seen in recent months. That could push the full-year total for 2012 into the upper end of the 13 million range -- some industry insiders are even speaking the whispered hope of reaching 14 million units for 2012. That would make for a very happy new year indeed.
PERCENTAGES ARE FULL-YEAR SALES RESULTS vs. LAST YEAR (unless otherwise indicated), with Winners and Losers for 2011.
GENERAL MOTORS +13%
GM enjoyed its first market share gain in a decade -- since the Keep America Rolling post-9/11 sales blitz in 2002. Even so, with 19.6% of the U.S. market, the company would have a long way to go to get back to the 28% share it enjoyed back then. Excitement over the automaker's 13% full-year increase over 2010 was diminished somewhat by lesser gains as the year drew to a close. In December, for instance, the increase was 5%, and only Chevrolet was in positive territory; Buick, Cadillac, and GMC all slipped. For the full year, however, all four brands were up.
Cruze! +138% (vs. Cobalt, and Chevrolet's most popular car)
Sonic +42% (vs. Aveo, December-vs.-December figures)
Volt -23% (vs. Chevy's stated target)
The Escalades -5%
Regal +36% (vs. departing Lucerne, December-vs.-December figures)
Yukon XL +6%
FORD MOTOR COMPANY +17% (Ford and Lincoln only)
Factor out the loss of Mercury and Volvo, and Ford's continuing brands jumped in 2011. Actually, it was really only the Ford brand. Lincoln finished flat for the year after a small increase in December (4%). Ford, however, was able to boast for the second year in a row that it is America's "best-selling brand." To no one's surprise, the F-series was again the most popular vehicle, with 584,917 sold after a particularly strong December. The Fusion had its best-ever year but it was the new Explorer and the far-from-new Escape that really helped push Ford ahead.
TOYOTA MOTOR SALES -7%
The Japanese earthquake and tsunami back in March deeply affected Toyota's output, and the company was reeling from vehicle shortages throughout most of the year. As a result of the lost sales, Toyota ceded 2.3 points of market share to it rivals. Despite all the bad news for Toyota this year, the brand was still somehow able to keep the Camry in the number one spot among all passenger cars. Also, the Sienna was the bestselling minivan. At Lexus, there was no good news. For the first time in more than a decade, Lexus was not the bestselling luxury brand, as it was passed by both BMW (which took the crown) and Mercedes-Benz. Toyota execs say that production is finally back on track, and they claim they're poised for major growth in 2012.
Camry -6% (down, but still #1)
Yaris -18% (but new version was +32% in December)