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Automakers remain optimistic following improved sales in 2012

Keywords: Tags  Vehicle sales, General Motors, Kurt McNeil, Mark Ruess, Ford Motor, Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, Toyota, Jim Lentz Honda

CHICAGO — Automakers ended 2012 on a high note, with the top seven companies selling nearly 1.14 million vehicles last month, a 7.2-percent increase from 1.06 million vehicles in December 2011 and 19 percent higher than November’s sales pace, according to an AMM analysis.

The automakers sold nearly 12.41 million passenger cars and light trucks last year, up 12.9 percent from just under 11 million vehicles in 2011, a year marked by production outages in Japan and supply chain disruptions following the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

As a result of the Japanese automakers’ comeback, they regained some of the market share they gave up in 2011. The Detroit Big Three—General Motors Co., Detroit; Ford Motor Co., Dearborn, Mich.; and Chrysler Group LLC, Auburn Hills, Mich.—lost a 2.4-percentage-point share of U.S. sales last year, while Japanese offshoots Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc., American Honda Motor Co. Inc. and Nissan North America Inc. gained a 2.6-point share. Toyota and Honda each saw 24-percent-plus increases in vehicles sold.

Still, the rising tide lifted all boats: GM and Ford saw annual gains of 4.7 and 5.1 percent, respectively, while Chrysler posted a 20.6-percent sales increase.

Automakers are bullish about their prospects for 2013.

"We’re very optimistic about ... the strength of the industry," Kurt McNeil, GM vice president of U.S. sales operations, said. "We are especially pleased that (Washington was) able to reach a compromise (on the fiscal cliff). (Lawmakers) clearly have a lot of work to do, but the short-term crisis has passed and that clears the runway for full-year light vehicle sales to rise to the 15-million- to 15.5-million-unit range in 2013. That (estimate) will make 2013 the industry’s best year since before the great recession."

"Both the economy and the industry have a bit (of) underlying momentum we expect will continue," GM North America president Mark Reuss said. "I think (buyers) will begin to make more decisions knowing what the tax status is."

Ford believes global sales will grow this year with the support of an ongoing recovery in the United States as well as improving sales in China, Ford chief economist Ellen Hughes-Cromwick said, but those gains will be offset somewhat by weakness in European demand.

"We expect (U.S.) sales to perform in the 15-million- to 16-million-unit range; for the 19 markets we track in Europe, 13 million to 14 million units. China, we expect to log between 19.5 million and 21.5 million units," she said.

Jim Lentz, president and chief executive officer of Toyota USA, said the industry expects that an improved economy and consumer response to new products will boost sales this year. With the jobless rate at a three-and-a-half-year low, the housing market turning the corner, low interest rates and other steadying influences, Lentz said pent-up demand from a growing population and aging vehicles also will drive sales higher in 2013.

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