Sales rose slightly for most automakers in December, providing a solid end to a very good year that saw U.S. auto sales climb to their highest level in five years.
Higher consumer confidence, easier access to credit, an abundance of good vehicles, and a generally improving economy combined to help push sales up to 14.5 million units last year, a 13 percent increase from 2011.
Industrywide, December sales gained about 9 percent compared to 2011.
Among the year’s biggest gainers were Honda and Toyota, which struggled in 2011 as a result of an earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Honda said its U.S. sales were up 24 percent in 2012. Toyota did even better, roaring back to a 27 percent gain, the best among full-line automakers.
Local Toyota dealers also said they did strong business in 2012.
“We really did pretty good comparable to last year,” said Dave Wittenmyer, general manager of Jim White Toyota.
“Last year was a terrible year, let’s face it. But we were up significantly over last year.”
Mr. Wittenmyer said sales at the Central Avenue Strip dealership were up 31 percent for the year, including an 18 percent gain in December. With a new RAV4 due in showrooms later this month and a redesigned Corolla coming this summer, Mr. Wittenmyer said the dealership is looking to get a 15 to 18 percent bump this year.
General Motors and Ford Motor Co. posted smaller year-over-year gains, increasing sales volume by 4 and 5 percent respectively. GM sold the most units overall, at 2,595,717.
But Chrysler Group LLC wasn’t far behind Honda and Toyota, posting a 21 percent increase over 2011.
Chrysler was the only major U.S. car company to gain market share for the year. Each of Chrysler’s individual brands posted gains of at least 10 percent over 2011, and the group overall has recorded month-over-month sales gains in 33 consecutive months.
“Chrysler’s doing a lot of things right. They really are,” said Ralph Mahalak, Jr., owner of the Monroe Dodge Chrysler Jeep Superstore. “They’re obviously really serious about selling a lot of cars, which is good for us. We’re thrilled they want to keep their foot on the accelerator and keep these cars rolling.”
The Jeep Wrangler, built only in Toledo, has been rolling especially well. Chrysler said Wrangler sales were up 16 percent last year, setting an all-time sales record at 141,669 units.
“It appeals now to such a broader base of customers because the interior appointments are so much nicer and the ride is so much improved. I just think that thing is an engineering masterpiece,” Mr. Mahalak said.
Sales of the Toledo-built Jeep Liberty dropped off considerably in December, falling to 3,508 from 6,161 in 2011, but the sales of the discontinued model were still up 13 percent for the year to 75,483. Chrysler stopped building the Liberty in August and is expected to soon unveil its replacement.
Though U.S. auto sales aren’t expected to continue to grow at the rate they have been, analysts and manufacturers still expect a healthy 2013.
Kurt McNeil, vice president of U.S. sales for GM, said the company is looking for U.S. consumers to buy up to 1 million more cars this year than they did in 2012.
“GM’s strong finish in 2012, the industry’s momentum, and the overall health of the U.S. economy make us optimistic about 2013,” Mr. McNeil said.
“The budget compromise reached in Washington this week removes uncertainty and clears the way for full-year light-vehicle sales to rise to the 15 million to 15.5 million unit range in 2013.”
Chris Hopson, manager of North American sales forecasting for IHS Automotive, also predicts 2013 sales in the range of 15 million vehicles.
“For the most part, what we saw in December could be a snapshot of what we see moving forward,” he said.
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