Auto Sales Slow in December, Still on Pace for Best Year Since 2007

Andrew Klips  |

After some stellar prior months, auto sales in the U.S. simmered some in December, as consumers may have started their Christmas car shopping in November and some had to deal with snow and ice storms in December. December is generally one of the best months of the year for auto sales as dealerships run a litany of specials to compete for holiday shoppers. U.S. industry sales figures for December are internally projected at an estimated 15.8 million units Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR). The last time auto sales crossed 15 million for the year was 2007.

U.S. sales at General Motors (GM) last month were down 6 percent versus December 2012. Total sales for the month were 230,157 vehicles. All four GM lines, Cadillac, GMC, Chevrolet and Buick, posted lower sales in December from the year earlier. Sales of Chevy’s, the largest seller at GM, were down by 8.1 percent to 153,493 units. GMC sales, the second largest, fell 1.8 percent to 43,120 units.

The GMC Acadia crossover had its best December ever with sales up 53 percent from last year’s month.

The December slide wasn’t enough to stop GM from having a solid 2013, with sales rising overall by 7 percent from 2012 to almost 2.8 million units.  Chevy sales improved by 5.2 percent compared to 2012 to 1.95 million cars and trucks. From a percentage perspective, Cadillac was the best performer with a 21.9-percent rise in sales to 182,543 units.

“2013 was the year that GM and the auto industry put the last traces of the recession in the rearview mirror, so now we can devote our full attention to the things that matter most to customers: compelling design, world-class quality and delivering the best ownership experience in the business,” said Kurt McNeil, vice president, U.S. sales operations.

Ford Motor Co. (F) posted a smaller-than-expected rise in December with total sales up 2 percent, although its 3-percent rise in retail sales was its best December since 2005. Total sales for the month were 218,058 units.

As always, Ford’s F-Series pickup truck was its top seller with 74,592 units, up 7.3 percent from December 2012. The F-Series has been the best selling vehicle in the U.S. for more 32 years and the best-selling truck for 37 straight years. The Ford Fusion maintained its strong growth curve with a 26.6-percent improvement from last December to 24,408 units. The only other Ford-brand vehicle to post growth from last December was the Mustang, with a sales increase of 3.4 percent to 5,727 cars.

Lincoln MKZ sales surged 73 percent from last December to 2,823 units, making up most of the 8-percent rise in sales for the Lincoln line.

For all of 2013, total sales at Ford jumped almost 11 percent to 2.49 million vehicles, representing the best year since 2006. The company sold 763,402 F-Series pickups in 2013, its best year since 2006. Fusion sales of 295,280 vehicles in 2013 represent a 22 percent increase, setting an annual record. 71,073 Ford Fiestas were sold, also a record year that was up 25 percent from 2012. Also making a new all-time high was sales of small SUV Escape with a 13 percent gain to 295,993 vehicles.

Toyota Motor Co. (TM) said that December sales edged down by 1.7 percent from a year earlier to 190,843 units. For the full-year, sales rose 7.4 percent from 2012 to 2.24 million cars and trucks.

"The auto industry was a consistent bright spot in the economic recovery throughout 2013," Bill Fay, Toyota division group vice president, said Friday in a statement. "We expect the economy will continue to gain strength in 2014, with car sales rising to pre-recession levels."

Nissan posted a 10.5 percent rise in sales from December to 109,758 vehicles. For the year, sales were up 9.4 percent to 1.25 million units.

Chrysler Group LLC reported U.S. sales of 161,007 for the month, up 6 percent from 152,367 in December 2012, but just shy of analyst expectations, but marking the 45th consecutive month of year-over-year growth. The Ram pick-up was Chrysler’s best selling vehicle, with an 11-percent rise in sales from last year to 33,405 units. The Ram 1500 was recently picked as Motor Trend’s 2014 Truck of the Year.

In its second month on the market, Jeep Cherokee sales rose 48 percent from November to 15,038 units. Overall Jeep brand sales were up 34 percent in December, posting their second-highest monthly sales in the history of the company with 53,275 units, led by 16,517 sales of the Grand Cherokee (down 4% from Dec. 2012).

Chrysler brand sales sunk 21 percent from the year prior month as sales of 200 and 300 lines were off by 38% and 32%, respectively.

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Sales of the muscle car Dodge Charger improved 29 percent to 10,145.

On an annual basis, full-year 2013 sales were up 9 percent compared to 2012, paced by a 9-percent increase in Ram truck sales. It was the fourth straight year of annual sales growth for Chrysler.

To kick-off the new year, Fiat ($FIATY), owner of Chrysler Group, agreed to buy the United Auto Workers' remaining 41.5-percent stake in Chrysler for $4.35 billion. Fiat took control of Chrysler during its 2009 bankruptcy reorganization and has since bought the stake held by Canadian governments.  The UAW had been pushing for an initial public offering for Chrysler, but this new deal puts an end to the possibility of that happening, at least anytime soon because Chrysler and Fiat were against the idea.

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