Auto Sales End 2009 on a Positive Note
Automakers ended a dreadful 2009 - the worst U.S. sales year since 1982 - on a positive note: Sales rose 15.1 percent in December compared with a year ago, reports released Tuesday show.
Even with the improvement late in the year, 2009 industry sales fell 21.2 percent, to 10.4 million, compared with 2008 as the recession took its toll, according to Autodata.
Among Detroit automakers, Ford was the standout in December, with sales up 32.8 percent. General Motors and Chrysler, which went through bankruptcy reorganizations midyear, fell 5.7 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively, in December.
Major Japanese and South Korean makers were up solidly in the month, with Hyundai leading the group with a 40.6 percent gain, Toyota rising 32.3 percent, Honda up 24.5 percent and Nissan up 18.2 percent.
Looking to 2010, most analysts expect steady but modest sales gains as customers who've waited are forced to trade aging vehicles. "It's a slow recovery," said Edmunds.com sales analyst Jessica Caldwell. "There are still a lot of displaced people who still need to buy a vehicle."
Despite winding down Pontiac, Saturn and Saab and cutting a deal to sell Hummer, GM remained the No. 1 U.S. seller. It will have just four brands going forward: Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac. Ford came close to passing Toyota for second place. It steadily grew its piece of the sales pie last year and posted its first full-year market share increase since 1995.
Detroit's laggard continues to be Chrysler. Sales fell 35.9 percent, and it was passed by Honda for fourth place in the U.S. Sales of 931,402 marked the first year under a million for Chrysler since 1962, according to Edmunds.com.
Ford's F-Series pickup was the best-selling vehicle in 2009, despite a trend toward thrifty, smaller cars and a commercial sales hit from the housing slump.
Ford noted that its December sales increase was broad-based in market segments. It even saw a 33 percent increase in sport-utility vehicle sales, which had become a slow-selling segment as crossover vehicles became the rage.
Despite an awful year when sales fell 29.9 percent, GM noted its December drop was less than 6 percent and said that came mostly from cutting back low-margin sales to rental car and corporate fleets. GM says its offer of a 60-day buyback guarantee, which ended Monday, helped drive better sales. Out of 420,000 vehicles sold during the program, only 310 have been returned.
"We've got some positive momentum going into 2010," said Susan Docherty, GM's U.S. sales chief.