General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Group LLC reported December vehicle sales that beat analysts’ estimates, capping the U.S. auto industry’s best year since 2008.
Auto sales increased as consumer confidence reached an eight-month high in December, and carmakers aired holiday ads and continued promotions started in November. The U.S. automakers rallied in 2011, two years after GM and Chrysler emerged from U.S.-backed bankruptcies. Also during the year, GM reclaimed the top spot in world vehicle sales from Toyota Motor Corp.
“It’s been a phenomenal turnaround for the Big Three,” Michelle Krebs, an analyst with researcher Edmunds.com, said in an interview. “Chrysler and GM have the American taxpayer to thank for that, but in the end, it’s been a good investment.”
GM’s December vehicle sales rose 4.5 percent to 234,351, topping the average 4.4 percent gain of eight estimates. Ford’s December light-vehicle deliveries rose 10 percent to 209,447, exceeding the average estimate for a 7.7 percent gain. Chrysler’s December sales jumped 37 percent to 138,019 cars and light trucks, more than the average 33 percent analyst gain. Nissan Motor Co. also exceeded estimates.
Light-vehicle sales in December may have run at a 13.4 million seasonally adjusted annual rate, the average estimate of 14 analysts, up from the 12.5 million pace a year earlier. The rate may trail the 13.6 million seasonally adjusted pace in November, typically a slow sales month.
Room to Grow
“The year ended on a high note,” said Krebs, who is based in West Bloomfield, Michigan. “That bodes well going into 2012.”
The economy expanded in the final three months of 2011 at a 2.8 percent annual rate, the strongest since the second quarter of 2010, according to the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg early last month. Employers added 120,000 jobs in November, helping push down the jobless rate to 8.6 percent, the lowest since March 2009.
Nissan’s December deliveries rose 7.7 percent to 100,927, which topped the 5 percent gain predicted by the average of five analysts.
Detroit-based GM, the largest U.S. automaker, was paced by a 53 percent increase in sales of the Cruze small car and a 12 percent rise in sales of Silverado pickups.
The company said industry sales have room to expand.
“We’re still in recession-like industry size,” Don Johnson, GM’s vice president of U.S. sales operations, said today during a conference call with analysts. “The growth we’re seeing is still based on” a slow increase in jobs, he said.
One sector where employment is expanding is the auto industry, where companies announced plans last year to hire or rehire at least 25,000 workers in the U.S. by 2015.
Ford’s passenger car sales fell 15 percent in December, while SUV sales rose 16 percent, the company said. Ford brand sales for 2011 were above 2 million for the first time since 2007, the Dearborn, Michigan-based company said last week.
Sales of Ford’s Explorer sport-utility vehicle rose 37 percent 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.
Auburn Hills, Michigan-based Chrysler’s Jeep brand had a 41 percent increase, which included gains of 36 percent for Grand Cherokee and 39 percent for Wrangler SUVs.
The results “are really great sign for Chrysler,” said Rebecca Lindland, a Norwalk, Connecticut-based analyst for IHS Automotive. “It’s a company that’s struggled in the past more than others.”
‘Signs of Recovery’
Volkswagen AG’s VW brand sales rose 36 percent to 32,502 last month compared with a year ago, making it the brand’s best December since 1972, the company said today in a statement.
“We believe the industry continues to show signs of recovery and consumers generally recognizing it is a good time to be out there buying vehicles,” Jonathan Browning, head Volkswagen’s U.S. operations, said in a conference call today.
Toyota deliveries last month may have slid 1 percent and Honda Motor Co. sales may have fallen 15 percent, the averages of five estimates.
Hyundai Motor Co. and affiliate Kia Motors Corp. may have recorded a 27 percent sales gain last month, the average of four analysts’ estimates.
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