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Domestic Car Companies Post Double Digit 2011 Sales Increases

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(credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

jeffgilbert Jeff Gilbert
Automotive reporter for WWJ Newsradio 950 and CBS Radio News....
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  autos arrows plug v2 Domestic Car Companies Post Double Digit 2011 Sales Increases

DETROIT (WWJ) – A strong December helped all three domestic carmakers post double digit sales increases in 2011.

“We definitely went out on a high note,” said Jeff Schuster, director of global forecasting for LMC Automotive, an industry consulting group.

Chrysler lead the way with a 37 percent sales increase in December, 26 per cent for the full year. GM December sales rose five percent, leading to a 14 percent annual sales increase. Ford sales were up 10 percent in December, 11 percent for the year

For Chrysler, December was the best sales month since May of 2008.

“Chrysler Group finished a year of growth on a strong note with our December retail sales soaring 45 percent to our highest dealer retail sales in four years,” said Reid Bigland, President and CEO – Dodge Brand and Head of US Sales. “Looking back, we were the fastest-growing automaker in the country, increasing our market share 1.3 percentage points during 2011.”

General Motors also picking up market share in 2011.

“It was a great year for us,” said Don Johnson, GM’s sales operations manager. “Great products lead the way for us. We maintained our disciplined approach to both production and incentives.”

The Chevrolet Cruze was a strong seller for GM in 2011, as was the Chevy Equinox small SUV.

Johnson says there was a lot of pent up demand playing out in 2011. But, he also saw consumer confidence rising, as the unemployment rate subsided a bit, and credit became slightly easier to find.

“I think we’re ending the year with some optimism from the consumer,” he said. “I do think that bodes well as we look into 2012.”

At Ford, analyst Eric Merkel sees sales remaining strong into 2012. Not only are consumers becoming more confident, he says many can’t wait too much longer to replace their vehicle.

“When we take a look at the average age of a vehicle, it’s really getting very old. So people are having to make decisions.”

Ford’s F-150 remained the nation’s best selling vehicle. It was also a good year for the Escape and Fusion, vehicles that are getting a major makeover in 2012.

“We feel really good about the year, particularly good about the close, particularly over the past few months,” said Merkle. “We’ve seen not only our total sales performing very well, but we’ve seen the retail part of our business really pick up.”

Toyota and Honda are still feeling the impact of last spring’s earthquake. Toyota sales were flat in Decemer, but down seven per cent for the full year.

“We begin 2012 with high expectations fueled by a strengthening economy, increasing consumer confidence and the biggest surge of new and updated products in our history.” said Jim Lentz, president and chief operating officer, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. We thank our customers, dealers and business partners for their continued support and loyalty.”

Honda reports it’s sales down nearly 19 percent in December, dragging full year sales down 7.1 percent.

“As we eagerly close one of the most challenging years American Honda has weathered, we are well-positioned for a strong 2012,” said John Mendel, American Honda executive vice president of sales. “Although we still had low inventory in December, our production levels are now back to normal. The new year brings the promise of positive momentum with the all-new CR-V now on sale and a concept version of the ninth-generation 2013 Honda Accord Coupe to be unveiled next week at the North American International Auto Show.”

Nissan sales rose 7.7 percent for the year. Volkswagen sales were up 26 percent.

Hyundai had a record 2011, with sales up 20 percent for the year.

“Hyundai has enjoyed sizable increases in share as its redesigned and all-new vehicles are proving themselves worthy in segments that are highly competitive,” said Edmunds.com analyst Ivan Drury. “In terms of incentives, Hyundai spends a mere $634 per vehicle sold, one of the lowest averages in the industry. Hyundai vehicles are winning consumers over with their styling, features and driving dynamics, and the brand has plenty of buzz, so the company doesn’t require much in the way of incentives at this time.”

2011 was a year that saw strong sales at the start, then saw sales slow down considerably in the summer, partly because of a shortage of Japanese products due to that country’s earthquake and Tsunami.

“I think the momentum coming off of the summer slowdown is what we need to focus on here as we look at 2011 and the implications going into 2012,” said analyst Jeff Schuster.

Sales picked up significantly in the fall. Analyst Michelle Krebs of Edmunds.com says it was important for the auto industry to post good sales in December.

“It’s a strong end to 2011. It gives us good momentum going in to 2012.”

Connect with Jeff Gilbert
Email: jdgilbert@cbs.com
Facebook: facebook.com/carchronicles
Twitter: @jefferygilbert

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