US Auto Sales 2012: Pent Up Demand Bursts, Boosting Sales; Consumers Buy Smaller Cars

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By Angelo Young | January 4, 2013 4:22 AM EST

The Big Three U.S. automakers ended 2012 on a high note as Americans kicked tires and drove more new vehicles off the lots last month than they had in the past five Decembers, a sign that despite a continued slow U.S. economic recovery, consumers were willing to replace their aging vehicles due to easier access to financing and enticing incentives.

U.S. consumers are estimated to have bought 15.6 million vehicles in 2012, on a seasonally adjusted basis, up 7.59 percent from 14.5 million the previous year.

General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) on Thursday said it sold 245,733 vehicles in December, a 5 percent rise from last year. It joins other major automakers in capping off the best year since the 2008 subprime mortgage meltdown shocked the global economy and send the country into a recession.  

Overall, car dealers unloaded 1.9 million GM vehicles in 2012, led by sales of the Chevrolet family. GM’s Cadillac passenger car sales grew 64 percent in December compared to last year while the company’s pickup sales last month where highest year-over-year since 2008.

Americans might have been more willing to make these big purchases in December, but what many bought last month were smaller, more economical vehicles.

As with Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F), which earlier on Thursday reported positive growth in cars and declines in trucks and utilities, GM saw the strongest growth in sales of its mini, small and compact cars with 52 percent compared to December 2011.

Sales of the F-Series truck, Ford’s most popular model and the best-selling pickup in the country, were up less than 1 percent last month while the overall truck category, which includes the Ranger, the E-Series and the Transit, saw sales decline 7 percent. Utility vehicles declined by 3.4 percent.

For the year, both automakers saw across-the-board sales growth for the year in all categories, with Ford reporting its best sales year since 2006.

“All four GM brands increased their sales year over year in December and we were strong across the board in cars, crossovers and pickup trucks,” Kurt McNeil, GM’s vice president of U.S. sales operations, said in a written statement.

Chrysler Group LLC, a subsidiary of Fiat SpA (PINK:FIATY) of Torino, Italy, also reported the best end-of-the-year sales performance in five years.

Looking back on 2012, we were again one of the fastest growing automakers in the country with total sales up 21 percent,” said Reid Bigland, Chrysler’s head of U.S. sales. “We also recorded 33-consecutive months of year-over-year sales growth and our strongest annual sales in five years.”

December’s sales were bolstered by robust demand for Ram pickup truck, which saw a 16 percent rise in sales last month of the company’s most popular model.

The Dodge group saw a 26 percent rise in sales in December, led by double digit growth for Dodge’s Caravan minivan, Journey 7-passenger family crossover, Challenger sports sedan and Avenger passenger sedan.

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