Sales at General Motors rose 14% in 2011.
Sales at General Motors rose 14% in 2011.

2011 was a good year for the vast majority of automotive manufacturers serving the U.S. market. Despite disruptions in the overall supply chain due to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan—as well as the flooding in Thailand—automakers ended the year on a high note, with strong momentum fueling optimism for 2012. Analysts from LMC Automotive are projecting sales for 2011 to total 12.7 million. This presents a 9.5% volume jump from the 11.6 million-unit sales achieved in 2010.

Following is a summary* of how the manufacturers fared in December:

  • Audi—up 15%
  • BMW—up 15%
  • Chrysler—up 37%
  • GM—up 5%
  • Honda—down 19%
  • Hyundia-up 13%
  • Mercedes—up 28%
  • Nissan (including Infiniti)—up 18.2%
  • Subaru—up 26.2%
  • Toyota—up 4.4%
  • Volkswagen—up 36.2%

In terms of percentage growth, Chrysler Group LLC led the pack with its 37% increase (or U.S. sales of 138,019 units compared with sales of 100,702 units in December 2010). December marked Chrysler Group's 21st-consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains and seventh-consecutive month of sales increases of at least 20 percent.What’s more, the performance was the group's best monthly sales increase since May 2008. The Chrysler, Jeep®, Dodge, and Ram Truck brands each posted solid sales gains during 2011 compared with sales in 2010.

Chrysler Group’s performance was driven in part by strong sales of the Chrysler 300 flagship sedan, Chrysler 200 mid-size sedan, Dodge Charger and Avenger sport sedans, Ram pickup truck, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Wrangler, and Compass. “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.”

The Chrysler brand's 83 percent increase, driven by surging sales of the Chrysler 300 and Chrysler 200 sedans, was the largest percentage sales gain of all the Chrysler Group brands and represents its best monthly sales since August 2008. The Jeep, Dodge, and Ram Truck brands each logged double-digit percentage sales gains in December, while the FIAT brand posted a 44 percent increase compared with the previous month of November.

Not to be outdone, GM continued on its growth track, reporting total U.S. sales of 234,351 vehicles in December, up 5 percent compared with December 2010. Sales for the calendar year were up 14 percent year over year to more than 2.5 million units and the company gained market share. In December, retail deliveries were up 2% compared with a very strong December 2010, and accounted for 81 percent of GM sales. Deliveries to fleets were up 17%. GM’s four core brands, Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac, were up 13%, 14%, 19%, and 4% on the year, respectively.

“GM’s balanced portfolio of fuel-efficient cars, trucks and crossovers helped us make the most of the U.S. economy’s slow but steady recovery in 2011,” said Don Johnson, vice president, U.S. Sales Operations. “Importantly, we were able to grow all four of our brands and re-establish Chevrolet as a force to be reckoned with in the passenger car business. This gives us a very solid foundation to compete in a market that we expect to keep growing.”

GM’s total passenger car sales for the month increased 12%, crossover sales decreased 14%, sales of trucks, which include full-size pickups, vans and SUVs increased 13%. Highlights for the month include a 42% year-over-year increase in Chevrolet Sonic sales (compared with the Aveo), a 54% increase in Chevrolet Cruze sales, a 20% increase for the Chevrolet Camaro, and a 13% increase for the Chevrolet Malibu. The Chevrolet Volt sold more than 1,500 units, making December its best month ever.

Other highlights include double-digit sales increases for the Cadillac SRX, Chevrolet Avalanche, Colorado, Silverado, Tahoe and Suburban, and the GMC Yukon XL. In addition, Chevrolet Equinox had its best sales month of the year in December.

“Over the course of the fourth quarter of 2011, clear signs emerged that U.S. consumers are more confident and that other underpinnings of our economy are either stable or slowly improving,” Johnson said. “When we add improving economic fundamentals to pent-up demand and an aging vehicle fleet, it’s now clear that auto sales should continue to grow in 2012, barring a shock to the system.”

Cross-town at Ford Motor Co., total sales for the year increased to 2,148,806 vehicles, up 11 percent for the year. Ford brand sales for 2011 were above 2 million for the first time since 2007. Sales of Ford’s Explorer sport-utility vehicle rose 37% and its F-Series pickup gained 24 percent. Fusion, the company’s top-selling car, decreased 4.5 percent and its Fiesta small car was down 30 percent. Ford’s passenger car sales fell 15 percent in December, while SUV sales rose 16 percent.

For some manufacturers 2011 was a record year. Subaru of America, Inc., for example, reported record vehicle sales of 266,989 units for 2011. Subaru has now posted sales records in each of the past three years; plus, Subaru is the only manufacturer in the U.S. to have posted four successive years of sales growth. Additionally, the month of December marked Subaru’s best-ever sales month, eclipsing the previous best month of August 2009 – the “Cash for Clunkers” month.

The 2011 achievement for Subaru is all the more remarkable considering the company had to contend with significant production delays caused by the tsunami and earthquake in Japan in March 2011. To respond to strong consumer demand for its latest products, and to make up for lost production, Subaru's parent company Fuji Heavy Industries increased vehicle production in the second half of 2011, and the company is now pumping more cars per month than at any time in its history.

The hit parade continued, especially for manufacturers such as Volkswagen of America, Inc., which reported 324,402 units sold in 2011. That represents a 26.3%t increase over prior year sales. Likewise, December sales totaled 32,502, up 36.2% over 2010, marking the best December for Volkswagen of America, Inc., since 1972.

“December capped off a successful year of growth for Volkswagen of America,” said Jonathan Browning, president and CEO, Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. “In addition to strong sales performance, in 2011 we opened an award-winning manufacturing facility in Chattanooga, Tenn., launched the all-new Beetle and Passat—which won the 2012 Motor Trend Car of the Year—and the brand made the biggest improvement in Sales Satisfaction in the industry.”

Another vehicle manufacturer that continues to impress is Hyundai Motor America, which generated sales of 50,765 vehicles in December—a 13% total sales increase and 18% retail sales boost compared with the same record-setting period a year ago. For the year, Hyundai sales were up 20% versus 2010 in total, with sales to retail customers up 29%. Sales to fleet accounts represented just 10% of total sales for 2011 and three percent for the month of December.

“We are encouraged by the present market fundamentals combined with consistent signals including brisk holiday selling that indicates a broader industry recovery,” said Dave Zuchowski, Hyundai Motor America’s executive vice president of national sales. “We finished 2011 with solid momentum and much improved inventory levels and are enthusiastic about our prospects for 2012 as we continue to launch a broad array of new product entries.”

The Alabama-built Sonata and North American Car of the Year finalist Elantra both set full-year records with sales of 225,961 units (up 15 percent) and 186,361 (up 41 percent) respectively. The all-new Accent saw an incredible year-over-year sales increase of 91 percent for the month of December and finished the year up seven percent over 2010.

“December was another record-setting month and 2011 a record-setting year for Hyundai,” said John Krafcik, president and CEO, Hyundai Motor America. “Hyundai sold a record 645,691 units this year, built over 420,000 cars right here in the U.S., and achieved an industry-leading 36.1 miles per gallon CAFÉ level doing it."

Hyundai’s premium models also performed well, according to Krafcik, with the sleek Genesis model delivering 32,998 sales for the year. This translated into an increase of 13% over 2010, setting an all-time yearly record. Meanwhile, the Equus model, In its very first year, found 3,193 very satisfied owners, delivering over 5% market share of the premium sedan segment with residual values and J.D. Power APEAL ratings unsurpassed by Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, or Audi. Equus is powered by the 5.0L Tau GDI V8 429-horsepower engine, a 2011 Ward’s Ten Best engines winner.

Luxury/high-performance auto brands reaped the rewards as well. Audi, for instance, set a new all-time monthly record, with 12,655 vehicles sold in December (a 20% increase over the same period last year). On the whole, Audi achieved record U.S. sales of 117,561 vehicles sold in 2011, eclipsing the prior record of 101,629 vehicles sold in 2010. Marking the best year Audi has ever enjoyed in the U.S. market, year-end sales increased 15.7% over 2010. In fact, Audi achieved Record sales every month of 2011 for a total of 117,561 vehicles sold YTD, a 15.7% increase over last year (limited by available inventory).

According to Audi of America president, Johan de Nysschen, December results were buoyed by strong performance in the C and D segments, with record December sales for the technologically advanced Audi A6, the design-forward Audi A7 and the flagship A8 sedan. A6 sales of 1,855 increased 124% over 2010, while sales of the A8 luxury sedan increased 35% to 678 vehicles sold. Sales of the all-new Audi A7 four-door coupe remained solid, with 887 vehicles sold in December.

Audi wasn’t the only luxury brand to break records. The BMW Group in the U.S. (BMW and MINI combined) achieved its best sales since the record year of 2007, retailing 305,418 vehicles, up 14.9% compared to the 265,757 vehicles sold in 2010. BMW Group reported December sales of 32,545 vehicles, an increase of 17.9% from the 27,600 vehicles sold in the same month a year ago.

“BMW Group sales momentum has been increasing all year, and this new burst of consumer confidence filled our dealer showrooms putting both BMW and MINI over the top,” said Ludwig Willisch, president and CEO, BMW of North America. “I have great confidence that 2012 will be even better especially with the all-new BMW 3 Series arriving in the U.S. in February with more new and refreshed models coming in the months after.”

December wasn’t kind to all manufacturers, however. At Honda Motor Co., U.S. vehicle sales decreased 19% in December as the Japanese automaker again reported lower car and truck sales. Honda reported it sold 105,230 vehicles in December, down from 129,616 a year earlier and 25% above November’s total. Sales of cars fell 29%, while truck sales slipped 5.2%. Sales fell 6.7% for the CR-V and slid 40% for the Accord. The Pilot and Odyssey both saw sales increases of 13%. Civic sales decreased 27%. Honda’s luxury division, Acura, posted a 15% sales decline.

John Mendel, American Honda executive vice president of sales, chose to accentuate the positive. “As we eagerly close one of the most challenging years American Honda has weathered, we are well-positioned for a strong 2012,” he said. “Although we still had low inventory in December, our production levels are now back to normal.”

According to LMC, which acquired the auto forecasting division of J. D. Power & Associates in November, estimates call for a steady rise to 13.8 million sales in 2012, 15.4 million in 2013 and 16.2 million in 2014. Analysts say that would finally restore American sales to prerecession levels. (In 2000 the industry sold 17.4 million units.) 

GM, for one, expects full-year 2012 light vehicle sales to be in a range of 13.5 million to 14 million units. Parts suppliers are also upbeat about business heading into 2012.

*December 2011 vs. December 2010 sales