The dust is still settling from 2011, but early figures indicate that the U.S auto market recorded significant growth over 2010. Analysts at Polk Research say that upward trend will continue across much of the globe in 2012 -- though alas, not everywhere.
China: Though some have questioned the stability of China's auto market, Planet Earth's most populous nation clearly has an appetite for cars. Polk expects the growth rate for 2012 to hit 16% -- a far cry from the 32% seen in 2010 or the 59% bump in 2009 (both fueled by plenty of government subsidies), but nothing to sneer at. Interestingly, the strongest demand for cars in China is likely to come from consumers outside major metropolitan centers like Shanghai, implying that sales among city-dwellers have plateaued.
U.S.: While America won't see double-digit growth, the folks at Polk do expect light vehicle sales to rise a very respectable 7.3% in 2012. The gains would've been bigger, but 2011 was a big year for auto sales -- around 10.4% as of November -- and as a result, many shoppers won't be back in the market for another year or two.
Luxury: Polk sees the luxury segment picking up speed, particularly in the U.S. Though the interwebs are full of headlines about the still-shaky economy, 2011 may have been just stable enough for affluent shoppers to feel confident again. According to Anthony Pratt, director of forecasting for the Americas at Polk, those individuals are ready to spend again: "More affluent buyers are returning to the market for new vehicles, after three years of spending reductions."
Honda & Toyota: Polk expects to see Toyota and Honda make big gains in market share in 2012 -- though that's in part because 2011 was so dismal for them. Between the March 11 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that crippled Japan and the Thai floods that hurt production in the latter half of the year, both automakers experienced heavy setbacks. Polk doesn't expect Toyota and Honda to regain all the ground they lost, though, thanks to boosted competition from other automakers.
Volkswagen: Look for continued growth in VW's market share, thanks to big-selling models like the Jetta and the revamped Beetle. The company may meet its 2018 goal after all.
Chrysler, Ford, General Motors: Detroit's Big Three have all been making steady improvements since emerging from the doldrums of 2008 and 2009. (Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne even seemed a little weepy in praising his employees' hard work over the past couple of years.) We've been impressed with many of the products each company has been offering, and we hope to see their forward momentum continue.
Europe: You're probably well aware of Europe's financial troubles. As a result of those woes -- and the austerity measures being planned to address them -- European sales should be flat or down slightly for 2012. However, Polk expects to see the region bounce back slowly in subsequent years.
Japan: Polk doesn't delve into much detail for Japan, but sales projections for the next few years are fairly flat, running between 4.5 million and 4.8 million units annually through 2016. That may be in part a result of Japan's economic recovery from the Tohoku disaster, and it may also have something to do with the fact that Japanese youth aren't especially interested in cars.
Hyundai/Kia: The powerhouse from South Korea has been making big strides in the U.S. and elsewhere recently. But while they'll continue to sell a growing number of vehicles, their market share will stay relatively flat for 2012, thanks to increased competition.
Polk expects to see continued growth in global auto markets for at least the next five years. Analysts predict 77.7 million sales for 2012, surging to a stunning 96.3 million by 2016. Stay tuned...