Some thoughts on the past year’s sales.

Once again, I give you the bestselling vehicle in America–the Ford F-150.

On January 3rd, all the sales results for each major car brand sold in the United States were made public for the month of December, and consequently, the entire previous year.  For the most part, 2011 was an excellent year for sales in the auto industry, a big step in the right direction since the turmoil of 2009.  There were of course, some nasty issues that clearly affected sales across the board, but this year, only a select few CEOs should really need a drink today.  So, let’s take a look at these numbers and see what falls out of the tree.

First, I’m going to take a close look at what happened in the USA.  GM, Ford, and Chrysler all reported double-digit increases for annual sales, with some brands doing particularly better than others.  First up is Ford, who has enjoyed a healthy increase of 11% for the year in total, saw its sales break 2 million for the first time in some years. Even without Mercury, Ford’s doing well.  Lincoln’s woes continue but sales for the entire year were virtually flat, so Lincoln is in a prime spot for a big rejuvenation.  Chrysler, meanwhile, is doing just as nicely now, with sales up by a whopping 26% over last year.  As sales of the Caliber and the other relics of Chrysler Corporation’s spotty recent history draw to a close, expect sales to rise further.  FIat, though, has fallen far short of expectations, selling only about 20,000 units since its launch. That said, Fiat’s 500 has only been on sale for part of this year, so 2012 may be be better for them (especially with the new 500 Abarth on the way).  General Motors hasn’t fared badly at all, posting a nice 14% increase despite issues with its stock prices.  GM’s market share increased as well, another sign that this company is coming back fast.  Another large piece of good news is that GM’s been selling to retail customers at a rate of 80% or so, an excellent amount considering how in the old days, fleets were much more than 20%.

Europe, meanwhile, has done pretty well.  Porsche is up despite being down for the month, and Volkswagen’s sales have increased a healthy 23%, indicating that VW could indeed make a splash in 2012 if they stick to their plans of domination.  In a big surprise, Volvo has more than doubled for 2011, selling over 60,000 units this past year alone–an excellent figure for such a small brand in the USA, and even more impressive consideirng they do not sell the S40/V50 or the V70 on these shores.  Even Maserati has increased in sales, as has Saab.  Now, understand that Saab is dead at this point, and their December sales were, to say the least, pitiful.  Jaguar-Land Rover, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz have not yet released results, but I will be updating this as soon as that information becomes available.

Asia, however, wins the “Tale of Two Cities” award for having one country that boomed and one country that really didn’t.  Japan had one of its slowest years in some time, yet South Korea has once again made waves.  That’s not to say that all of the Japanese brands have done poorly, but the two biggest, Honda and Toyota, each posted noticeable declines, of 7% each.  Meanwhile, almost everyone else posted sales gains, with Subaru in particular posting an all time record, beating their previous record set last year.  Hyundai and Kia each gained on the others, posting total yearly sales of nearly 900,000 units, proving once again that the Hyundai Group is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with.

So, with the numbers out there, it’s clear who’s done well and who has not.  Saab is dead and gone, despite posting a sales increase.  Toyota, despite dropping in sales, is still No.3 in the USA, behind GM and Ford in 1st and 2nd.  Chrysler gained enough strength to notably pass Honda in sales by about 100K units, which should give the boys in Auburn Hills a nice feeling.  Of course, what comes around the bend is going to be crucial, as the two biggest Japanese automakers pick up the pieces of last year’s relatively lackluster sales charts and roar back into the fire, and if Chrysler can keep improving its range, they should stay ahead of Honda, whose product line has been doing some sputtering as of late.

So who needs some Dutch courage after reading those numbers? Well, I would definitely say that Honda’s executive board needs some, and Toyota should be right behind them.  But, some deserve to drink to success, and that’s Hyundai, General Motors, and Chrysler.  looking to the future, though, Toyota is poised for a comeback this year barring any unforeseen production problems, and Hyundai’s continuously increasing lineup will do nothing but help them.

-Albert Davis


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