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TOYOTA, HONDA LEAD

Auto industry posts best US sales year since 2007

Detroit, January 4, 2013

US auto sales rose 9 per cent in December, capping off the best year for the industry since before the recession, while the 2012 sales hit 14.5 million new vehicles, a rise of 13.5 per cent against the previous year.

The year's sales were driven by a slowly recovering economy, more available credit and the need for consumers and businesses to replace aging cars and trucks.

General Motors posted December US sales growth of 5 per cent compared with the year-earlier month, Ford Motor Co increased sales 2 per cent and Chrysler Group LLC's sales rose 10 per cent.

Wall Street cheered the results, sending GM and Ford stock to their highest levels since July 2011. GM shares ended 2.4 per cent higher at $29.82 and Ford shares were up 2 per cent to end at $13.46 on Thursday.

Research and consulting firm Polk said it expects US auto sales to hit 15.3 million vehicles in 2013. GM and Ford both predicted industry sales of more than 15 million vehicles, but Toyota Motor Corp offered a more modest forecast of 14.7 million vehicles.

In the decade prior to 2008 when the recession slowed the industry, US auto sales averaged nearly 17 million vehicles a year.

While last month's auto sales showed little impact of jitters caused by the so-called fiscal cliff - which proved largely averted - automakers expressed worry over the fog of uncertainty still emanating from Washington.

The impact of a payroll tax increase that took effect at the start of the year and the upcoming congressional debate over raising the US debt ceiling may keep some consumers out of the market in 2013, several automakers said.

Detroit's automakers showed December US sales gains of 5 per cent, slightly better than analysts' expectations, but not enough to stave off market-share gains by Toyota and Honda Motor Company.

The two largest Japanese automakers in the US market rebounded from poor showings in 2011 when their inventory was constrained after the Japan earthquake and tsunami.

Toyota reported a 9 per cent US sales increase for December, which met analysts' expectations. Honda's December sales rose 26 per cent but fell short of analysts' expectations. Honda sales are up 24 per cent on the year.

Toyota's 2012 US sales rose about 27 per cent, compared with gains of 3.7 per cent for GM, 4.7 per cent for Ford, and 21 per cent for Chrysler.

US market share

GM's US market share is now at its lowest level since at least 1960, and probably at a low not seen since 1930, according to industry journal Ward's Auto.

GM and Ford lost market share in 2012, dented by competition from Toyota and Honda which recovered from 2011 earthquake-related setbacks.

GM's 2012 market share fell to 17.9 per cent from 19.6 per cent in 2011. Its market share was 23.5 per cent in 2007, before the recession. Ford's 2012 market share fell to 15.5 per cent from 16.8 per cent in 2011.

BMW wins luxury crown

Most luxury brands had a good year. BMW for the second straight year edged German rival Mercedes-Benz for the US sales crown, followed by Toyota's Lexus and Honda's Acura.

The two US luxury brands both saw sales fall in 2012, with Cadillac down 1.7 per cent and Lincoln off 4.1 per cent.

Japanese models swept the next four places, with Toyota Camry leading the Honda Accord, Honda Civic and Nissan Altima. Chrysler's Ram pickup placed seventh, followed by Toyota Corolla, Ford Escape and Ford Focus.

Both GM and Ford went into the recession that began in late 2007 - and into 2008 when gasoline prices spiked - overladen with low-mileage big pickup trucks and SUVs.

GM said on Thursday that in 2012 it sold in the US market more than 1 million vehicles that get at least 30 miles per gallon in highway driving. And Ford said that in the year it sold the most small cars since 2001.

Sales of high-profile hybrid and electric vehicles were a mixed bag in 2012. GM's Chevrolet Volt tripled sales to 23,461, but still fell well short of the company's original goal of 40,000 vehicles. Nissan's Leaf was virtually flat, at 9,819.

Toyota maintained its lead in the green-car category, with total Prius sales of 236,659, up 73 per cent with the addition of three new Prius derivatives in the past year.

Chrysler easily beat analysts' expectations and had its 33rd consecutive month of year-on-year sales gains. Its annual sales rose 21 per cent. Its market share in 2012 rose to 11.4 per cent from 10.7 per cent in 2011. Chrysler is majority-owned by Italian automaker Fiat SpA.

Sales for South Korea's Hyundai Motor Corp and Kia Motors Co rose 5 per cent. Hyundai, the larger of the sister companies, reported full-year US sales of 703,007 vehicles, a company record.

Volkswagen reported a monthly increase of 31.5 per cent for its namesake brand and luxury brands Audi and Porsche and a 30 per cent gain for the full year.

December sales fell 12 per cent for Lincoln, Ford's luxury brand.

Aided heavily by consumer incentives that reduce the price of the vehicles, GM in December dramatically trimmed its inventory of full-size pickup trucks to 80 days of supply from 139 days at the end of November. Most automakers like to have about 80 days of supply of these pickup trucks.

For the overall industry, the pace of annual sales increases has been in the double digits since the market bottomed in 2009, when it hit the worst annual sales rate since World War Two, adjusting for population. – Reuters




Tags: Toyota | GM | Recession | Honda | Detroit | US auto sales |

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