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Auto Sales Strong To The Finish In 2012, Despite 'Fiscal Cliff' Concerns

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2013 Audi TDI range

2013 Audi TDI range

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The looming fiscal cliff might have taken over the daily news cycle as the end of 2012 approached, and prompted some speculation that Americans might hesitate on big-ticket items, but it didn't seem to put any damper on auto sales after all--or keep wealthier households from buying luxury cars.

Auto sales were poised at a five-year high after December brought a strong finish to the year--after an already strong November--with 2012 figures expected to total an adjusted rate of 14.5 million--up about 13 percent from 2011. Sales are expected to pass the 15-million mark in 2013.

A number of European and Japanese luxury car brands surged in December, as BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz all hit highs for the month and for the year. Audi had its strongest sales month ever in the U.S. Yet American luxury brands didn't do as well. While Cadillac was up five percent for December, it finished 2012 down 1.7 percent from 2011. And Lincoln, in the midst of yet another identity crisis, saw sales down 12 percent in 2012, versus 2011.

American Honda sales, including Honda and Acura, were up 24 percent in 2012 as a whole, compared to 2011, thanks to strong sales of the new 2013 Accord as well as the Civic and CR-V, and as Acura models like the RDX and ILX met the needs of a wider swath of the U.S. market for upscale vehicles.

2013 Chevrolet Volt

2013 Chevrolet Volt

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'Green' vehicles like hybrids, plug-ins, and pure electric models surged in 2012. Sales of Toyota's Prius lineup were up 73 percent over the year, and while sales of the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt still failed to meet targets, GM tripled Volt sales in 2012.  Follow below for a roundup of the numbers, as they roll in from each automaker:

General Motors: December was the best retail month of 2012 for GM (NYSE: GM), with 245,733 vehicles sold in all, including 193,081 retail sales. Buoyed by the Verano, Buick did especially well year over year, up 8.9 percent over last December (and 5.7 percent on a retail basis), while Cadillac was up five percent year over year. Volt sales were up 72 percent from last year's levels, while combined mini, small, and compact car sales saw a 52-percent boost.

Ford: Ford Motor Company [NYSE:F] reported sales up on all counts for 2012, with car sales up five percent, utility vehicles up seven percent, and trucks up two percent. Overall for December, Ford sales gained two percent in December, year over year, with Focus and Fiesta sales strong but two all-new entries, Fusion and Escape, down year over year. Lincoln sales were the loser though; they were down 12 percent year-over-year.

Toyota / Lexus / Scion: Toyota Motor Sales finished 2012 on a high note, with December sales up 9 percent overall, including Toyota sales up seven percent in December, versus last December, and Lexus sales up 20.7 percent. The outgoing Toyota RAV4 continued to be a strong seller, with sales up 5.6 percent from December 2011. The Prius family of vehicles increases sales 22.4 percent from the same month last year, at 20,040 units, while Corolla led the way, up 22 percent from last December. 

Chrysler: It was Chrysler's best December since 2007, with Dodge brand sales up 26 percent, Ram trucks up 16 percent, and Chrysler brand sales up 6 percent. Jeep was down 9 percent year over year, mainly due to the wind-down of Liberty production, but the Grand Cherokee posted its best December in seven years.

Honda / Acura: All of American Honda, including the Acura and Honda brands, posted an especially strong sales month in December, buoyed by the new 2013 Honda Accord and an all-time December sales record for the Civic, making overall Honda sales up 26.8 percent from December 2011. Acura fared nearly as well, with the new RDX crossover and ILX compact-sedan, as well as the brand's best seller, the MDX, helping add up to a 22.1-percent increase from last December. American Honda ended the year up 24 percent compared with 2011.

Nissan / Infiniti: Nissan North America reported sales down 1.6 percent versus last December, although it finished off the year up 9.5 percent for all of 2012, compared to 2011. Compared to last December, Nissan sales were down 3.6 percent, while Infiniti sales were up 14.9 percent, thanks mostly to the new JX. .

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