Last year was a solid one for most Japanese automakers, which emerged from a weak 2011 where sales were crippled by the tsunami and earthquake that rocked Northern Japan. Similarly, European automakers began shifting inventory from their beleaguered home market, which only helped sales in the U.S. The downside is that the more competitive U.S. market is known for lower profit margins, which could affect some brands' bottom lines.
On the home front, Chrysler gained far more ground than its Detroit rivals, both of whom seem to be producing steady - but not particularly rapid - growth.
- Acura - Up 22 percent to 16,034
- Audi - Up 17 percent to 14,841
- BMW - Up 39 percent to 37,399
- Buick - Up 10 percent to 16,473
- Cadillac - Up 12 percent to 18,248
- Chevrolet - Up 4 percent to 167,091
- Chrysler - Up 6 percent to 25,513
- Dodge - Up 26 percent to 52,391
- Fiat - Up 59 percent to 3,707
- Ford - Up 3 percent to 206,838
- GMC - Up 5 percent to 43,921
- Honda - Up 27 percent to 116,740
- Hyundai - Up 17 percent to 59,435
- Infiniti - Up 15 percent to 12,627
- Jaguar - Down 8 percent to 1,049
- Jeep - Down 9 percent to 39,871
- Kia - Down 10 percent to 39,178
- Land Rover - Up 9 percent to 5,174
- Lexus - Up 21 percent to 30,607
- Lincoln - Down 12 percent to 7,384
- Maserati - Up 40 percent to 333
- Mazda - Up 22 percent to 27,251
- Mercedes-Benz - Up 11 percent to 30,376
- Mitsubishi - Down 18 percent to 4,113
- MINI - Up 13 percent to 6,456
- Nissan - Down 4 percent to 86,663
- Porsche - Up 61 percent to 2,952
- Ram - Up 16 percent to 30,885
- Smart - Up 40 percent to 996
- Subaru - Up 9 percent to 36,653
- Suzuki - Down 24 percent to 1,945
- Toyota (Includes Scion) - Up 7 percent to 163,536
- Volkswagen - Up 35 percent to 44,005
- Volvo - Up 15 percent to 6,150
- BMW Group - Up 35 percent to 43,855
- Chrysler - Up 10 percent to 152,367
- Daimler - Up 12 percent to 31,377
- Ford Motor Company - Up 2 percent to 214,222
- General Motors - Up 5 percent to 245,733
- American Honda - Up 26 percent to 132,774
- Hyundai Group - Up 5 percent to 98,613
- Jaguar Land Rover - Up 6 percent to 6,223
- Nissan North America - Down 2 percent to 99,290
- Toyota USA - Up 9 percent to 194,143
- Volkswagen - Up 31 percent to 62,075
2012 Overall Numbers
- Acura - Up 27 percent to 156,216
- Audi - Up 19 percent to 139,310
- BMW - Up 14 percent to 281,460
- Buick - Up 2 percent to 180,408
- Cadillac - Down 2 percent to 149,782
- Chevrolet - Up 4 percent to 1,851,646
- Chrysler - Up 39 percent to 307,967
- Dodge - Up 16 percent to 524,989
- Fiat - Up 121 percent to 43,772
- Ford - Up 5 percent to 2,168,015
- GMC - Up 4 percent to 413,881
- Honda - Up 24 percent to 1,266,569
- Hyundai - Up 9 percent to 703,007
- Infiniti - Up 22 percent to 119,877
- Jaguar - Down 2 percent to 12,011
- Jeep - Up 13 percent to 474,131
- Kia - Up 15 percent to 557,599
- Land Rover - Up 15 percent to 43,664
- Lexus - Up 23 percent to 244,166
- Lincoln - Down 4 percent to 82,150
- Maserati - Up 18 percent to 2,730
- Mazda - Up 11 percent to 277,046
- Mercedes-Benz - Up 13 percent to 295,013
- Mitsubishi - Down 27 percent to 57,790
- MINI - Up 15 percent to 66,123
- Nissan - Up 8 percent to 1,021,779
- Porsche - Up 21 percent to 35,043
- Ram - Up 17 percent to 300,928
- Smart - Up 92 percent to 10,009
- Subaru - Up 26 percent to 336,441
- Suzuki - Down 5 percent to 25,357
- Toyota (Includes Scion) - Up 27 percent to 2,082,504
- Volkswagen - Up 35 percent to 438,133
- Volvo - Up 1 percent to 68,117
- BMW Group - Up 14 percent to 347,583
- Chrysler - Up 21 percent to 1,651,787
- Daimler - Up 14 percent to 305,072
- Ford Motor Company - Up 5 percent to 2,250,165
- General Motors - Up 4 percent to 2,595,717
- American Honda - Up 24 percent to 1,422,785
- Hyundai Group - Up 11 percent to 1,260,606
- Jaguar Land Rover - Up 11 percent to 55,675
- Nissan North America - Up 10 percent to 1,141,656
- Toyota USA - Up 27 percent to 2,082,504
- Volkswagen - Up 30 percent to 615,281
In terms of sales figures, Chrysler remains Detroit's brightest star. All of its divisions saw double digit gains (aside from Fiat, which was up 121 percent over its launch year).
Chrysler's namesake division had the most to celebrate overall - it even topped the automaker's Ram truck division in 2012 sales. Still, there were a few weak points. Jeep's sales were off 9 percent last month and the Dodge Dart continues to perform well below the rest of the compact car market - just 6,105 were sold last month, which is about one quarter of the volume typically seen by the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus.
Ford finished 2012 relatively strong, with its namesake division selling over 2 million units for the second consecutive year. A look at the individual numbers reveals a mixed bag, like a 3 percent slide for the Fusion and a 17 percent drop for the Fiesta outweighed by a 40 percent bump for the Focus and an 18 percent boost for the Mustang. Last month, the biggest thing to note was a 21 percent decline for the heavily recalled Ford Escape small crossover.
At Ford's Lincoln division, the picture was rosier than the overall slide might look. The automaker finished the year with sales gains for all of its models - only the discontinued Town Car's 89 percent drop kept the division from posting a gain.
GM saw modest growth in 2012, although some of its new nameplates performed particularly well. The subcompact Chevrolet Sonic found 81,247 buyers last year, nearly three times the number of people who bought its Aveo predecessor in 2011.
At the General's other brands, the best news came from GMC, especially the Terrain crossover that nearly hit 100,000 units for the first time. Buick came out of its slump thanks to big demand for the Verano, which offset volume decreases for the rest of the automaker's other models in 2012. And Cadillac shows signs of rebounding after a tough start, but only because its new ATS and XTS models are selling well - the rest of the Cadillac division saw sales tumble last month.
Man, was 2012 a strong year for Honda - especially compared to the hurricane and tsunami-induced doldrums of 2011. The automaker's redesigned Accord, CR-V and Civic were all big sellers in December - and for 2012 as a whole. Even Honda's Acura brand bounced back nicely. The Acura ILX is now the best-selling Acura passenger car, although it's handily outsold by the MDX and RDX crossovers. Of note to enthusiasts: Acura found 4,234 TSX wagon buyers last year, which accounts for about 14 percent of all TSX-badged cars sold in this market. That's about 40 percent higher than Acura initially estimated.
Kia's sales tumbled last month, but the automaker still had its best ever year and its first above 500,000 units.
Still lacking a midsize sedan (until later this month when a new Mazda6 arrives in showrooms), Mazda nonetheless had its best year since before the recession primarily on account of its 123,361-unit Mazda3.
Nissan's Infiniti brand really rebounded last year, even though its core product - the G line - is up for a redesign. The automaker's namesake division, meanwhile, had a rough December but finished out the year strongly thanks to decent volume gains for its Altima and Pathfinder models.
Niche status is a thing of the past for Subaru, which saw growth last year for every model aside from the Tribeca. The automaker added more than 40,000 Impreza owners overall in 2012 and it found an impressive 3,409 XV Crosstrek shoppers last month alone.
Big T - Toyota - regained a lot of the ground it has lost over the last few years, although it came in third place overall in this market behind GM and Ford. Its Prius line was hugely successful thanks to the addition of the new Prius c and v models, but even its mainstream Corolla and Camry had good news to report.
At Lexus, the picture was similarly positive - especially the Lexus GS, which went from a paltry 3,746 deliveries in 2011 to more than 22,000 in 2012. And enthusiasts should find solace in the fact that the Scion FR-S was that division's best sellerlast month, topping the xB by 104 units. Overall, the late-introduction car came in third place behind the tC and xB, however.
Audi topped its previous annual sales record last month and buyers kept rolling into the four ring brand's showrooms. Its annual best seller was the A4 (including the allroad) at 38,530 units, but the Q5 crossover is catching up with 28,671 deliveries made last year.
Germany's BMW rolled into the second half of 2012 with lots of momentum, especially from its high-margin 5-Series. The 8,385 sold last month came surprisingly close to the 10,745 3-Series models the automaker delivered. BMW's MINI brand also had a solid month, although the new Coupe slid 30 percent. 2012 was BMW's strongest year ever in the U.S.
Arch rival Mercedes-Benz also had its best year ever on account of its C-Class and E-Class models, which found 81,697 and 65,171 buyers, respectively.
Europe's biggest automaker, VW, continues to grow, although it needs some higher volume models to hit the 800,000 it wants to see in just a few years. Still, 146,473 Jettas and 117,023 Passats is a remarkable achievement.
Despite a shrunken lineup, Volvo finished 2012 fairly strong thanks to big growth for its XC60, which was up 48 percent over last year.
Leftlane's bottom line
With overall sales of about 14.5 million new cars, the U.S. new car market grew by 13 percent last month. Outpacing the average were some big players, primarily from Asia and Europe, although Chrysler delivered biggest growth among Detroit's big automakers. Special credit also goes to Volkswagen, which remains smaller than the headliners but is rapidly catching up.
December proved to be a particularly solid month, too, with the seasonally adjusted annual sales rate - the figure at which annual sales would top out if they kept up the same momentum - hitting 15.38 million cars.
The 2013 calendar year should have even more growth, although we don't anticipate the new car market expanding quite as quickly since much of the pre-recession ground has been made up already.