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)
Chrysler capped a remarkable comeback year with another big increase in December (+36%), suggesting that they’ve got momentum. All four brands were up over last year, lead by Jeep. Fiat, however, so far has not met expectations.
200 +126% (vs. Sebring)
300 -2% (but December sales were 3x last year’s)
Town & Country -16%
Charger -7% (but like the 300, December was better than 3x last year)
Durango (now outselling the Journey)
Grand Cherokee +51%
AMERICAN HONDA -7%
Honda finished the year down 7%, exactly the same as Toyota. The two were the most severely affected by the disaster in Japan. Disappointingly, Honda saw sales fall even more sharply in December (-19%), suggesting that the company’s difficulties may continue into the new year. Acura continues to struggle, while Honda has to be unhappy with the reception granted the new Civic. However, there are reasons for optimism, including a new CR-V that is just arriving and a redesigned Accord coming this fall.
RDX +2% (obviously, we’re reaching here)
ZDX -52% (fewer than 100 sold in December)
RL -46% (see above)
TL, MDX -8%
The Korean juggernaut rolled on in 2011, unscathed by the natural disaster in Japan (and perhaps even helped by it), but mostly moving forward powered by a stream of well-received new models.
Santa Fe -3%
Rio -18% (but new model was +128% in December)
NISSAN NORTH AMERICA +15%
Nissan largely escaped the aftermath of the Japanese disaster, although Infiniti division was affected. The Altima hit a high note, outselling the Honda Accord and taking the #4 spot among all nameplates.
Frontier +28% (who saw that coming?)
Sentra +22% (see above)
Pathfinder +21% (and again)
Leaf (outsold the Volt)
VOLKSWAGEN GROUP +23%
Volkswagen’s outsized plans to wildly increase its U.S. sales seem just a bit less hubristic after the company’s performance in 2011. The Americanized new Passat is on a tear, the Jetta continues to do well, and the redesigned Beetle is off to a good start. Audi is also doing well — and in the upper end of market where is has historically been weak. Credit the addition of the A7, but also the redesigned A6 and the new A8. Even Bentley, with its freshened Continental GT, is helping out.
Beetle -61% (but new version is selling at 3x the rate of the old model)
A8/S8 +275% (up from very small volumes a year ago)
A6 +28% (with the new version more than doubling sales of the old one)
A7 (accounted for 39% of Audi’s year-over-year volume increase)
BMW GROUP +15%
They’re celebrating in Munich — and in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey (home of BMW North America). When the final tally came in, BMW emerged as the number one luxury brand in the USA for the first time ever. Lexus, which had held the title for years, fell away early due to supply problems, leaving BMW and Mercedes to duke it out.
Mercedes-Benz just narrowly missed being America’s bestselling luxury brand despite a big December push that saw sales jump 27%. Obviously, the Mercedes brand is doing well — it’s Daimler’s peripheral brands that are troublesome. The company has announced that it’s finally pulling the plug on Maybach, long after sales had flatlined. And the smartest move we’ve seen regarding Smart was made by Roger Penske, who gave up on his distribution deal for the tiny two-seater.
Countryman (now accounting for half of all Minis sold)
The other Minis -9%
Maybach -38% (and death notice posted)
After several years of defying the economic downtrend and outperforming the industry — thanks to well-timed launches of well-received new models — Subaru hit some headwinds in 2011. The company was one of the lesser-known victims of supply shortages due to the disaster in Japan. But the new Impreza helped make for a big December (+26%), so perhaps Subaru can recover its momentum in 2012.
Impreza +58% (December-vs.-December)
Newly independent Mazda, no longer tied up with Ford, is hanging in there so far. A new CX-5 crossover is about to replace the ancient, Ford Escape-based Tribute, which should help for next year, and the SkyActiv technology could perk up the Mazda3.
Mazda2 62% (December-vs.-December)
Small volumes make for wild fluctuations for most Mitsubishi models. The thing to know here is that the Outlander Sport is now neck-and-neck with the Lancer as the brand’s major player.
Outlander Sport +58% (December-vs.-December)
Volvo’s increase over last year is wholly due to the return of the S60. It more than made up for the departure of the S40 and the V50.
S60 (far and away Volvo’s bestselling model)
C30, V70 -11%
JAGUAR LAND ROVER +11%
At Jaguar, the increase in XJ volume didn’t make up for the sales lost by the sliding XK and XF. Meanwhile, Land Rover was buoyed by rising volumes for all models except the LR2. The Evoque arrived too late in the year to be much of a factor; its affect will be seen next year.
Land Rover +20%
Range Rover Sport +24%
Range Rover, LR4 +12%
PORSCHE CARS NORTH AMERICA +15%
For a while, it looked like the Panamera might challenge the Cayenne as the bestselling Porsche model. But that moment has long since passed. The Cayenne was easily Porsche’s biggest seller for the year, beating the second-place Panamera by nearly 2 to 1. Oh, and it beat the Cayman by a factor of 9. All Porsches, however, took a turn for the worse in December, with sales down 29%.
Tiny Suzuki managed to keep all 4 of its models in the black in 2011.
Grand Vitara +11%
Saab closed out what looks to be its final year up 3%, which is probably not much of a consolation given its recent bankruptcy filing in Sweden. For the record, the 3847 9-3s were sold (-15% vs. last year), 1496 9-5s (+84%), and just 267 copies of the 9-4X (a future collectible?).
TOP 10 BESTSELLING NAMEPLATES OF 2011
584,917 Ford F-series
415,130 Chevrolet Silverado
308,510 Toyota Camry
268,981 Nissan Altima
254,293 Ford Escape
253,599 Honda Accord
248,067 Ford Fusion
244,763 Dodge Ram
240,259 Toyota Corolla/Matrix
231,732 Chevrolet Cruze