For the auto industry, 2012 was significantly better than 2011, which itself was a bounce back from 2010, which in turn saw carmakers pick themselves up off the floor, after having been KO’d in 2009. See a pattern here? The recovery continues, and in fact, is gaining steam.
When 2011 ended on a strong note (sales running at a 13.5-million-unit annual pace that December), the hope for 2012 was that the full-year total might reach the upper 13-million-unit range. Instead, carmakers kicked out 14.4 million new cars and trucks in the year just ended, versus 12.7 million the year before (SOURCE: Ward’s). That’s a 13% increase. Once again, we finished the year on a strong note. The sales rate in both November and December topped 15 million units. With all the factors driving the increased sales looking likely to continue — an aged national fleet, relatively available credit, and a slowly improving economy it seems that we shouldn’t have too much trouble hitting the 15-million mark in 2013. We shall see.
PERCENTAGES ARE FULL-YEAR SALES RESULTS vs. LAST YEAR (unless otherwise indicated), with Winners and Losers for 2012.
GENERAL MOTORS +4%
After gaining market share in 2011, GM gave some back in 2012 in the face of a resurgent Toyota and Honda. Still, three of four GM divisions finished 2012 with higher sales than 2011, although Cadillac lost some ground with the departure of the DTS and the late arrival of the XTS and the ATS. GM is optimistic about 2013, when it will launch several important, high-volume models, most notably new full-size pickup trucks and the new Chevy Impala.
Volt +206% (it also outsold the Nissan Leaf by better than 2 to 1)
Sonic +184% (vs. the previous Aveo)
Cruze +3% (now far and away Chevrolet’s most popular car)
Colorado +19% (hat tip to the departed Ford Ranger)
Camaro -4% (but it edged out the Ford Mustang)
FORD MOTOR COMPANY +5%
Like General Motors, Ford’s sales increase was not able to keep pace with the overall market. You certainly can’t fault the F-Series. The franchise player topped 600,000 sales for the year. The Fusion, though, lost some ground in a model changeover year. And Lincoln didn’t help, but it is counting on the new MKZ to staunch the bleeding in 2013.
F-Series! +10% (easily the #1 bestselling nameplate, it beat the #2 Silverado by more than 225,000 units)
Focus +40% (passed the Fusion to become Ford’s bestselling passenger car)
MKT +41% (the hoped-for successor to the Town Car isn’t there yet, but did make some progress)
MKZ +2% (next year should be better)
TOYOTA MOTOR SALES +27%
After 2011’s Japanese earthquake and tsunami drastically reduced Toyota’s output, 2012 was the company’s comeback year. And come back it did. The Camry shrugged off a challenge from the new Honda Accord to stay atop the passenger-car heap. The ancient Corolla/Matrix somehow managed to remain in the top 10 bestsellers. Lexus and Scion also came back strong.
Camry +31% (once again, America’s bestselling car)
Prius +73% (the expanded Prius family was the #13 nameplate overall)
Tacoma +16% (another compact pickup that happily scooped up Ford Ranger buyers)
FJ Cruiser +1% (yes, they still make it)
FR-S –% (introduced in 2012, it was the bestselling Scion in December and is trouncing its Subaru twin)
iQ –% (sold 8879 in its first full year, which is fewer than the Smart ForTwo)
CHRYSLER GROUP +21%
You might have expected Chrysler to give back some market share in the face of tougher Japanese competition, but instead Detroit’s scrappiest fighter added to its gains. The only clouds in the sky are the company’s higher than average incentive spending, and the slight slowdown in December (which was up only 10% over a year ago).
Dakota (it bit the dust in 2012)
AMERICAN HONDA +24%
Honda, like Toyota, was severely affected by the disaster in Japan, and it saw a similar revival in 2012. Successful launches of the CR-V and the Accord certainly helped. It appears that the rushed re-launch of the Civic is a success as well. After Honda dealers sold the heck out of the 2012 model in November to make room for the quick-fixed 2013, they then sold the heck out of the 2013 model in December: 33,118 of them.
Accord +41% (the new Accord looks to be a hit–sales were up 67% in December)
CR-V +29% (the bestselling SUV in the land)
Insight -62% (contrast that to the Prius…)
The Koreans stayed hot in 2012 (with another record year for both Hyundai and Kia), though not quite as hot as they had been. An embarrassment caused by overstated fuel economy figures was costly in the financial sense (millions of dollars to compensate owners of the affected cars) but appears not to have hurt sales. For 2013, the company says that it will be able to crank out more of its most popular models (Elantra, Sonata, and Santa Fe), all of which are being built on three shifts at Hyundai’s U.S. plant.
NISSAN NORTH AMERICA +10%
Nissan didn’t have the big supply problems in 2011 that some Japanese automakers did, so its percentage gain in 2012 was unspectacular. Infiniti, though, did have those issues, and it did shoot back up in 2012–although much of that was the addition of the JX.
JX –% (new for 2012, the JX quickly established itself as the brand’s most important model behind the G)
Altima +13% (over 300,000 units, but fell from 4th place among all nameplates to 6th)
Sentra -8% (it was a model-change year for the Sentra, but the new one was down in December)
Xterra -6% (doesn’t anyone mountain bike anymore?)
VOLKSWAGEN GROUP +30%
The Volkswagen Group’s 2012 sales increase was the best of any major manufacturer, topping even resurgent Toyota. All five of the company’s brands operating in the States contributed, but the engine of the growth was Volkswagen. While the industry overall has seen its sales rebound back up to 2007 levels, VW sales in 2012 were running at a pace not seen since 1973. Interestingly, 1 in 5 VWs sold last year was a TDI.
Passat +413% (an outsized percent increase over the all-but-dead previous model, but more impressive is that it’s the Passat’s best full-year total ever)
BMW GROUP +14%
With a strong December (+35%) the BMW Group finished a solid year. The BMW division was not able to repeat its win in the luxury derby, coming in second to Mercedes-Benz. BMW might point out, however, that Mercedes’ total includes some 20,000 Sprinter vans–factor those out and BMW did emerge on top.
The other Minis +11%
Supply problems slowed Subaru in 2011, but the brand returned to its winning ways in 2012. A string of successful new models has buoyed Subaru in recent years; in 2012 it was the new Impreza. For 2013, Subaru looks poised for more growth, with the recently added XV Crosstrek and a new Forester in the wings.
Mercedes-Benz can gloat that it was the number-one luxury brand in the United States in 2012, which puts a fine point on a successful year. The new SL made a splash, and the GLK seems to have gotten a lot of mileage out of its update. The aging big cars, however, are slowing down.
SL +238% (in the high-fashion roadster market, a new redesign usually does well)
Volvo managed to scratch out a tiny sales increase, despite dropping the S40 and the V50; it also passed the faltering Mitsubishi. The S60 and the XC60 are doing well, but that’s not enough to hang a franchise on.
Mitsubishi took a big ride down while nearly everyone else was up. Part of that was due to the departure of the Eclipse and the Endeavor. But even among the continuing models, only the Outlander Sport saw growth.
JAGUAR LAND ROVER +11%
The British duo finished out 2012 much as they did 2011: up 11% for the year. Once again, Land Rover can take credit for the increase, as Jaguar sales were down slightly. Additional powertrain variants–including, importantly, all-wheel drive–may help Jaguar’s sedans gain some ground in 2013; and the XF roadster also arrives this year. Land Rover got a boost from the Evoque in 2012; in 2013, the new Range Rover kicks in.
Land Rover +15%
Evoque (now the number-two-selling Land Rover, it sold over 1000 units in December)
Range Rover Sport +8%
Range Rover -20%
At the end of last year, we bid good-bye to Saab; this year it’s Suzuki. Suzuki sold 1945 cars in December (-24% vs. a year ago), and finished 2012 with 25,357 total sales.
TOP 10 BESTSELLING NAMEPLATES OF 2012
1. 645,316 Ford F-Series
2. 418,312 Chevrolet Silverado
3. 404,866 Toyota Camry
4. 331,872 Honda Accord
5. 317,909 Honda Civic
6. 302,934 Nissan Altima
7. 293,363 Dodge Ram
8. 290,947 Toyota Corolla/Matrix
9. 281,652 Honda CR-V
10. 261,008 Ford Escape