Kia, Chrysler and Volkswagen posted some of the strongest sales gains for December as the industry looked to close out 2011 on a high note.
At the time for newsletter deadline, Daimler AG and BMW Group still hadn’t reported results, as their Mercedes and BMW brands are locked in a battle to become the best-selling luxury brand in the United States.
The BMW brand led Mercedes by fewer than 1,600 units through November. BMW sales have risen 12 percent to 221,073 through November, compared to sales of 219,491 at Mercedes, which exclude sales of the Sprinter van.
Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus division has held the luxury sales crown since 2000 but has been hobbled by inventory shortages stemming from the March earthquake in Japan.
With all but three companies reporting, December volume was up 8 percent from a year earlier, in line with analysts’ forecasts. Total industry sales were on track to top 12.7 million for the year, up from 2010’s total of 11.6 million and the 27-year low of 10.4 million in 2009.
Chrysler Group’s 37 percent jump for December capped a year that included 12 straight monthly increases, for an overall gain of 26 percent. Volkswagen Group was up 31 percent, its fourth straight month with gains of 29 percent or more following the opening of its U.S. assembly plant. Kia’s 43 percent gain marked the fifth time this year that its monthly increases topped 40 percent.
Ford reported a 10 percent advance for the month and a 9 percent gain for the year.
General Motors Co. said its December sales climbed 5 percent to finish the year up 13 percent.
Toyota Motor Corp.’s sales were flat compared with a year earlier, with the Toyota Division up 2 percent and Lexus down 8 percent. For the year, Toyota’s U.S sales dropped 7 percent to 1.64 million units, as the company battles back from the March earthquake in Japan.
Quake-related inventory shortages also continued to undermine Honda Motor Co.’s U.S. sales, which dropped 19 percent last month. It was the eighth straight monthly decline for the Japanese automaker. Combined Honda and Acura sales fell 7 percent in 2011.
Nissan Motor Co. said its Nissan and Infiniti sales rose 8 percent last month for its best December on record. The Nissan brand sold a record 944,073 cars and light trucks last year.
Hyundai posted December sales of 50,765, up 13 percent from a year ago. Record annual sales of the Sonata sedan and compact Elantra helped Hyundai set a yearly U.S. sales record of 645,691, up 20 percent from 2010.
Volkswagen brand sales increased 36 percent for the month and 26 percent for the year. The results reflect strong demand for the new Passat and Jetta sedans, VW said.
Chrysler has been aided by a revamped car and light truck lineup, generous discounts and healthy demand for traditional SUVs such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Wrangler and Dodge Durango.
In 2012, U.S. sales are forecast to climb as high as 13.8 million, but well below the peak of 17.4 million in 2000.
“The Detroit 3 manufacturers held the key inventory advantage that made for strong light vehicle sales in December,” said Paul Taylor, chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Association. “Higher incentives from manufacturers struggling to regain market share will drive stronger light vehicle sales as 2012 unfolds.”
Taylor said Detroit automakers had nearly 50 percent of the inventory available for sale during December.
Industry sales have also been fueled by easing credit terms and pent-up demand. The average car or light truck on the road today is almost 11-years old and many households have reached the point where they must replace an aging minivan or crossover.
Demand for small cars, pickups and traditional SUVs is expected to outpace the overall industry last year, while the minivan, large car and luxury car markets lost ground in 2011.