A Strong December Closes Out 2011 Car Sales

January 4, 2012
2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8

2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8

As automakers are reporting December 2011 sales, a recovery that began early last year seems to be growing more steady, and stronger.

Each of the Big Three automakers--Ford (NYSE:F), General Motors (NYSE: GM) and Chrysler--reported sales increases for the month and for the year, as retail vehicle sales bested levels last seen in the depths of the financial crisis. Asian automakers are yet to file their numbers, but with Korea's Hyundai and Kia and Japan's Subaru likely setting annual sales records, only Toyota and Honda, the companies most affected by the March earthquake, may be poised to break rank.

Total light-vehicle sales for 2011 are expected to come in at nearly 12.8 million units, with 10.3 million of those sold to retail customers. In December alone, the retail-sales figures should top one million units; according to J.D. Power and Associates, that would be a first since August of 2009, when Cash for Clunkers drove demand temporarily out of recession.

Power now expects 2012 sales to rise to 13.8 million units, with retail sales accounting for 11.7 million of those.

"Next year, the automotive industry will look to build upon the strong finish to 2011," said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive, in a release. "But the real test in 2012 will be weathering a summer selling slowdown and posting a full year of a progressive recovery."

Those numbers are in line with most automakers' expectations, including those of General Motors. However, Ford's range puts 2012 sales volumes somewhere between 13.5 million and 14.5 million units--hedged against political uncertainty in an election year, but still a signal that the year ahead could be a good one.

The numbers for 2011, and for the final month of last year:

General Motors: GM (NYSE: GM) says each of its brands increased sales in 2011. Cadillac grew slowest, at 3.7 percent and 152,389 units, while Buick was up 14.3 percent, to 177,633 units. Chevrolet rose 13.4 percent in 2011 to total sales of 1,775,812 vehicles, while GMC was up 18.8 percent on annual sales of 397,986 units.

For the month of December 2011, GM sales rose 4.7 percent, with Chevrolet up 8.9 percent at 161,158 units sold. GMC moved 41,960 vehicles for a 0.5-percent decrease from December 2010. Buick's sales dropped 12.4 percent from the same period in 2010, to 14,974 vehicles. And Cadillac fell 2.7 percent on the month, to 16,259 units.

GM says its sales highlights included a 54-percent boost for the Chevy Cruze, a 20-percent lift for the Camaro--and a record month for the Volt, which sold 1,529 units, for a total of 7,671 on the year, against a stated goal of 10,000 units.

Ford: Ford (NYSE: F) sales were up 17.4 percent in 2011, with a total of 2,062,915 vehicles, giving the company its third market-share increase in a row--something it hasn't done since 1970. The Fusion sedan accounted for 248,067 units, a record for the four-door, while the Explorer ended the year up 123.6 percent. Even the dated Escape pulled off a 33-percent year-over-year increase, but the Flex was off 19.9 percent. Ford also sold 584,917 trucks in 2011. For December 2011, Ford sales totaled 201,737 units, an increase of 15.6 percent.

Ford's Lincoln brand watched its sales rise 4.3 percent in December, but was off 0.2 percent on the year, for a total of 85,643 units. December's sales of 8,403 units were helped by a 22-percent boost in MKZ sales and a 6.7-percent increase with the MKX, but the MKS sedan was off 15.3 percent and the MKT crossover was down 32.4 percent.

Toyota / Lexus / Scion: Toyota ended a difficult sales year down 7 percent, much of the decrease due to supply problems after the March 11 earthquake in Japan. U.S. sales totaled 1,644,661 vehicles; Toyota accounted for 1,446,109 of those, down 6.1 percent. Lexus' yearly total reached 198,552 units, down 13.7 percent, while Scion sold 49,271 vehicles in the U.S. in 2011, an increase of 7.5 percent.

For the month of December 2011, Toyota sold 152,776 vehicles, a 1.9-percent boost; Lexus reported 25,355 sales, an 8-percent slide. Scion sold 4,159 units, for an increase of 5.1 percent.


Chrysler: Sales of Chrysler, Dodge, Ram, Jeep and Fiat vehicles totaled 1.37 million units in 2011, for a strong 26-percent increase over an abysmal 2010. Chrysler says that's the biggest boost for any full-line manufacturer.

In December 2011, Chrysler says it sold 138,019 units in the U.S, an increase of 37 percent, and its best month since May 2008. The Chrysler brand moved 23,974 units, up 83 percent, with strong numbers for the 300 and 200 sedans--up 661 percent and 242 percent, respectively.

Jeep rose 41 percent on the month with 43,577 units sold; the company sold more Grand Cherokees last month than in any month in the past six years.

Dodge's numbers were up 28 percent in December, to 41,548 units, with a 227-percent sales boost for the Charger sedan. Ram trucks rose 10 percent to 26,595 units, and the Fiat 500 caught a ray of hope with sales up 44 percent over November 2011 to 2,325 units moved in December.


Honda / Acura: Honda says it sold a total of 1,147,285 vehicles in the U.S. in 2011, a slide of 7.1 percent from 2010, with sizable sales losses due to the Japan earthquake last March. Honda accounted for 1,023,986 units, off 6.9 percent; Acura was down 8 percent, to 123,299 units. The Honda Accord tallied 235,625 sales, fewer than the Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion; the Civic hit total sales of 221,235 units, and the CR-V, 218,373.

For the month of December, Honda sold a total of 105,230 units, down 18.8 percent over the same period in 2010. Honda brand accounted for 92,101 units, off 19.3 percent; Acura sold 13,129 vehicles in December 2011, off 15.2 percent from the same year-ago period.

Nissan / Infiniti:Nissan says it sold a total of 1,042,534 vehicles in the U.S. in 2011. Of that, 944,073 units were moved by the Nissan brand, a boost of 17.3 percent. The Altima narrowly beat out the Hyundai Sonata as the fourth-best-selling passenger car, with volumes of 268,981 units. Infiniti sales were off 4.8 percent on the year at 98,461 vehicles. 

For the month of December, Nissan sales of 89,937 marked an increase of 10.7 percent over the same period in 2010. Infiniti sales fell 12.1 percent, to 10,990 vehicles. The electric Nissan Leaf accounted for 954 units in December, for a total of 9,674 deliveries since launch, a handful arriving in customer garages in December 2010.


Hyundai: In advance of an official sales release, Hyundai USA CEO John Krafcik sent his company's results out via Twitter. "It's official: 50,765 new Hyundai owners in Dec (+13% over last yr) & 645,691 in 2011 (+20% over '10). Thanks all, and welcome aboard! ^jfk" Of the numbers, 225,961 units were Hyundai Sonata sedans, which likely makes the four-door the fourth-best-selling passenger car, to retail customers, Krafcik added.

Kia: Kia says it sold 485,492 vehicles in the U.S. in 2011, a new all-time record surpassing the one it set in 2010, and also a 36.3-percent increase. December 2011 sales totaled 43,390 vehicles, a 42.5-percent increase. Kia's share of the U.S. market is now up to 3.8 percent.

Volkswagen: Volkswagen says its sales soared in December 2011 by 36 percent. The monthly tally of 32,502 units marked its best December since 1972 (!). On the year, VW sold 324,402 vehicles, up 26.3 percent versus 2010, for its best U.S. sales year since 2002. The Jetta continues to post huge sales increases--in December, it's up 54.5 percent--and the Passat keeps its streak going as well, with a 124-percent boost in December 2011. Diesel sales are starting to shrink across its lineup, at least temporarily: December's share for diesels at VW was 18.4 percent, versus a year-long average of 21.6 percent.

Mercedes-Benz: Mercedes-Benz reported it sold 264,460 vehicles in the U.S. in 2011, a 17.5-percent increase over 2010's 225,007 vehicles. In December 2011, MBUSA sold 28,006 vehicles, up 30.4 percent over December 2010 (21,469).

BMW / MINI: BMW says its combined BMW/MINI retail sales totaled 305,418 vehicles in 2011. That's up by 14.9 percent over 2010's 265,757 vehicles--and it eclipses the Mercedes-Benz figures. In December 2011, BMW/MINI sold 32,545 vehicles, an increase of 17.9 percent from the 27,600 units it sold in December 2010.

Subaru: Subaru reported sales of 266,989 units for 2011, another all-time record for the Japanese automaker and an increase of 1.2 percent--despite supply problems it had in the wake of the Japan earthquake. Subaru says it's within striking distance of 300,000 units in 2012. December sales were up 26.3 percent, to 33,701 units.

Mazda: Mazda posted total U.S. sales of 250,426 units in 2011, an increase of 9.1 percent. In December, the Japanese automaker sold 22,353 vehicles, up 4.1 percent over the same period in 2010. The big winners: the CX-9, up almost 28 percent, and the Mazda5, with a sharp 52.5-percent sales increase over December 2010.

Audi: Audi says it sold 117,561 vehicles in the U.S. in 2011, for an overall gain of 15.7 percent. In December, Audi sold 12,655 vehicles, up 20 percent over the year-before numbers.

Volvo: Swedish automaker Volvo reported total U.S. sales of 67,240 vehicles, a 24.6-percent improvement over 2010. For the month of December 2011, sales hit 5,342 units, up 12.3 percent from a year before.


Mitsubishi: The Japanese automaker posted 2011 U.S. sales up 41.9 percent over 2010, at a total of 79,020 units. In December, Mitsu sales of 5,032 units marked a 3.2-percent increase over December 2010.

Porsche: Porsche had a banner year in the U.S. in 2011, with total sales of 29,023 vehicles, up 15 percent. For December of 2011, sales totaled 1,834 units, down 28.6 percent as the Cayenne slipped in the final month of the year.

Jaguar/Land Rover: Jaguar and Land Rover reported 2011 sales independently. Land Rover sold 38,099 vehicles in the U.S. last year, an increase of 20 percent from 2010; Jaguar sold 12,276 units, down 8 percent. On the year they combined for 50,375 sales, up 11 percent, their best numbers since 2007.

For December 2011, Jaguar sold 1,137 units, down 3 percent from the same period in 2010. Land Rover sold 4,743 vehicles, up 28 percent from December 2010.

Suzuki: Sales of 26,619 units in 2011 were an increase of 11 percent for Suzuki, but December's 2,566 units moved represented a 3-percent slide.

Saab: Saab sold 270 vehicles in the U.S. in December as the company faces a wind-down of operations.

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