December a Mixed Month for Auto Sales
DETROIT — Automakers ended a miserable year with a mixed December. The
Ford Motor Company was the only one of the three domestic companies to
report higher sales in the month.
Ford said Tuesday that its sales in the United States rose 33 percent in
December from a year ago, making it the company’s best month since May
2008. Over all for the year, Ford’s sales fell 15 percent.
Ford’s cross-town rival, General Motors, said its sales declined 6
percent in December, largely because of a 55 percent drop in sales by
the four brands it was shutting down. Sales were up 2 percent at the
four brands G.M. is keeping: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC.
G.M. said sales declined 30 percent for the year.
Chrysler also reported a sharp yearly decline, with sales for all of
2009 falling below one million for the first time since 1962, to 931,402
vehicles. Sales were down 4 percent in December and 36 percent on the year.
Chrysler also announced more buyer incentives, including no-interest
financing for almost all 2010 models.
Most other automakers said their sales increased last month. Compared
with December 2008, sales were up 44 percent at Kia, 41 percent at
Hyundai, 24 percent at Honda, 23 percent at Toyota, 18 percent at
Nissan, 16 percent at Volkswagen, 9 percent at BMW and 8 percent at
Ford estimated that its market share rose 1 percentage point in 2009, to
15 percent. That would represent Ford’s first full-year share increase
“Ford’s plan is working,” Ken Czubay, Ford’s vice president for United
States marketing, sales and service, said.
Shares of Ford, the only Detroit automaker to avoid bankruptcy, reached
their highest level since 2005 on Tuesday, rising 6.6 percent to $10.95.
They were worth as little as $1.50 in January 2009.
Automakers expect the year ahead to be much less turbulent than 2009,
when both G.M. and Chrysler borrowed billions of dollars from the
federal government before filing for bankruptcy protection, though sales
are expected to improve only modestly.
Sales were “very strong at the end of the month,” said Ford’s chief
sales analyst, George Pipas, an indication that the industry might enter
2010 with some positive momentum.
In another sign that better days are on the horizon, the industry’s
seasonally adjusted annualized selling rate has been rising steadily for
several months, ending 2009 at about 11.5 million vehicles. For all of
2009, automakers sold about 10.4 million light vehicles, G.M. and Ford
“Excluding the ‘cash-for-clunkers’ months, this would constitute the
strongest sales rate since September 2008, suggesting the industry is
witnessing a real improvement in underlying demand for U.S. autos which
bodes well for 2010,” Brian A. Johnson, an automotive analyst with
Barclays Capital, wrote in a recent note to clients.
G.M. projected that the industry would sell 11 million to 12 million
vehicles in the United States this year, while Ford made a slightly more
optimistic forecast, ranging from 11.5 million to 12.5 million.
“If things progress like they have been the last four months, we’ll
probably be at the higher end of that range, closer to 12” million, said
Michael C. DiGiovanni, G.M.’s chief market analyst. But Mr. DiGiovanni
said G.M. would still be able to succeed if sales are at the lower end
of the forecast.
“We’re planning our business for both contingencies,” he said.
The industry has considerable ground to make up before its sales will
approach the levels seen only a few years ago. Sales in the United
States were down 24 percent in the first 11 months of 2009, putting it
on track to be the worst year in at least 27 years.
Sales would have been even more dismal but for the government’s
“cash-for-clunkers” program, which gave credits of up to $4,500 to
new-vehicle buyers who turned in an older, less-efficient car or truck
to be destroyed. The program, which started in late July, burned through
$3 billion in about a month.
Only three automakers — Hyundai and Kia, which are affiliated in South
Korea, and Subaru — sold more vehicles in 2009 than they did in 2008.
Those companies each set new sales records in 2009.