DETROIT -- Ford, Toyota, Subaru and Hyundai Group spurred a year-end
U.S. sales rally that took some sting out of a painful year.
Overall, December sales of 1,030,096 light vehicles rose 15 percent
from December 2008, when the credit crisis and a deepening recession
dragged industry demand to 27-year lows. Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor
Sales and Subaru each rose by about a third last month, while
Hyundai-Kia advanced 42 percent.
December's bounce was enough to boost full-year volume to 10.43
million, down 21 percent from 2008.
That was the lowest since 1982's 10.35 million sales and a sharp drop
when compared with the rest of the decade. Through 2008, industry
sales this decade had averaged 16.4 million.
But it's a distinct improvement from the first half of 2009, when the
seasonally adjusted annual selling rate was 9.5 million. December's
SAAR was 11.9 million, well ahead of analysts' expectations of 11
million or 11.1 million.
December was the third month this year with a year-over-year sales
increase but perhaps the best signal yet that the U.S. auto industry
is on the mend. August's 1 percent increase was fueled by the
cash-for-clunkers government stimulus, and November's gain was an
almost invisible 35 vehicles.
Still, automakers remain cautious about the pace of recovery this
year. Ford Motor Co. expects 2010 U.S. sales to be between 11.5
million and 12 million. Sales boss Ken Czubay says last year's lessons
"2009 may be the most historic year in the automobile business. There
were bankruptcies, bailouts, government stimulus," he said. "I'm
leaving my seat belt on because I think that volatility is still the
American Honda, Nissan North America and Volkswagen Group also posted
double-digit gains, and Mazda and BMW Group finished in positive
Not everyone won in December. General Motors, Chrysler Group, Porsche
and Mitsubishi all narrowly lost ground, with the sharpest decline
being GM's 6 percent. The only big losers were Suzuki, down 48
percent, and Maserati, down 57 percent to 115 sales.
Ford's 16 percent sales decline for the year enabled it to gain ground
on No. 1 GM and No. 2 Toyota Motor Sales and let Ford post its first
improvement in annual market share in 14 years.
December was key. Last month Ford reported sales increases in each
product category and for each brand. Ford's domestic-brand cars jumped
42 percent for the month and crossovers rose 51 percent. Ford domestic
SUV sales gained 33 percent, but pickups and minivans were up 18
Ford brand sales rose 37 percent, while Lincoln gained 16 percent and
Mercury a more modest 6 percent.
But South Korea's Hyundai Group is knocking down the walls around any
notion of a Big 6, slashing the sales lead of No. 6 Nissan North
America from more than a quarter of a million in 2008 to fewer than
35,000 units last year.
Subaru's 33 percent gain last month pushed its industry-leading
advance for the year to 15 percent.
Nissan's 18 percent increase brought its tumble for the year to 19
Chrysler's 4 percent December decline left it with a 36 percent drop
for the year. Porsche also fell last month, by 2 percent, for a 24
percent 2009 decline.
Before the release of today's results, analysts projected that U.S.
auto sales would end the year on a slight upswing.