Toyota Leads 2012 U.S. Vehicle Market to Five-Year High

Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) and Honda Motor Co. (7267) led U.S. vehicle sales to their highest annual total in half a decade as Japanese automakers restored production disrupted by the tsunami in 2011.

Toyota’s U.S. deliveries climbed 27 percent to 2.08 million units last year and Honda’s increased 24 percent to 1.42 million, the companies said yesterday. At General Motors Co. (GM), Ford Motor Co. (F) and Chrysler Group LLC, December sales exceeded analysts’ estimates as they rounded out a year of surprising growth that helped propel the country’s economy.

While Japanese companies led the growth, virtually all major automakers added shifts and jobs at U.S. factories throughout 2012 to keep up with rising demand, helping boost the nation’s economic growth. Total U.S. deliveries of cars and light trucks climbed 13 percent to 14.5 million, the highest since 2007, and analysts said they expect the market to exceed 15 million this year.

“If you want to hang your hat on something that’s really improved in our industry, it’s the North American auto business,” George Magliano, senior principal economist for IHS Automotive in New York, said in a telephone interview. “It’s a shining piece of U.S. manufacturing.”

GM, Ford and Chrysler all topped average estimates for December in a Bloomberg survey of 11 analysts.

Deliveries in December rose 10 percent for Chrysler, 4.9 percent for GM and 1.6 percent for Ford, according to company statements. The U.S. automakers topped estimates for gains of 7.6 percent by Chrysler, 2.1 percent by GM and 1.2 percent by Ford in Bloomberg’s survey.

2013 Forecasts

GM and Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford, the two largest automakers by U.S. sales, both issued 2013 forecasts yesterday calling for the industry to exceed 15 million deliveries. Analysts projected 15.1 million annual light-vehicle sales, the average estimate of 18 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

“People are much more confident about jobs; banks and other credit institutions are much more willing to lend,” Mustafa Mohatarem, chief economist for Detroit-based GM, said yesterday on a conference call. “You’re seeing the customer continue to come back into the marketplace.”

GM and Ford climbed to their highest closing prices since July 2011. GM rose 2.4 percent to $29.82 in New York and Ford advanced 2 percent to $13.46.

Industrywide car and light truck sales in the U.S. rose 9 percent in December, trailing the 9.8 percent average estimate in Bloomberg’s survey of analysts. The industry capped a third-straight annual gain of at least 10 percent, a streak last achieved in 1973.

Powering U.S.

Increased production to meet growing demand within the industry has been a bright spot for the U.S. Autos contributed 14 percent of the 2.2 percent average rate of growth for gross domestic product in the recovery that began in the third quarter of 2009 to the third quarter of 2012, according to the most recent data available from the Commerce Department.

Chrysler, which was projected by analysts to lose market share in 2012, increased annual sales more than any major automaker other than Toyota and Honda during the year. The Auburn Hills, Michigan-based automaker’s Dodge Grand Caravan was the year’s top-selling minivan, besting Honda’s Odyssey and Toyota’s Sienna.

Toyota, Honda, and Nissan Motor Co. (7201) all trailed estimates for December. Toyota’s December sales rose 9 percent, according to its website, trailing eight analysts’ average estimate for a 10 percent rise. The Toyota City, Japan-based automaker’s Camry was the No. 1 car in the U.S. for the 11th year in a row.

Civic, CR-V

Honda sales climbed 26 percent, the company said in a statement, missing the 32 percent increase that was the average of eight analysts’ estimates. The Tokyo-based company’s Civic was the best-selling small car, passing Toyota’s Corolla, and its CR-V reclaimed the top spot among sport-utility vehicles from Ford’s Escape.

The Civic, which drew critical reviews from Consumer Reports after its redesign in 2011, was modified and reintroduced to the market in November.

“The new Civic that just came out is the best Civic they’ve ever built, and in terms of new products 2013 lines up very nicely for them,” Jesse Toprak, an analyst for industry data provider TrueCar.com in Santa Monica, California, said yesterday in a telephone interview.

Nissan deliveries slipped 1.6 percent, according to an e-mailed statement, falling short of the average estimate for a 2.7 percent gain.

The annualized industry sales rate, adjusted for seasonal trends, was 15.4 million in December, matching the average of 15 analysts’ estimates in Bloomberg’s survey.

Annual Totals

For the full year, GM’s sales gained 3.7 percent to almost 2.6 million, the automaker said in a statement on its website. Ford’s light-vehicle sales increased 4.7 percent to 2.24 million and Chrysler’s climbed 21 percent to 1.65 million. At Nissan, based in Yokohama, Japan, sales rose 9.5 percent to a record 1.14 million vehicles.

Chrysler, which last year announced plans to add about 4,150 jobs across five plants, ended 2012 with 11.4 percent market share, according to Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey-based Autodata Corp. The automaker’s increase of 0.7 percentage point from a year earlier trailed advances of 1.5 percentage points by Toyota and 0.8 percentage point for Honda.

Volkswagen AG (VOW), led by a more than doubling of sales for its Passat (PSAT) sedan, boosted deliveries by its Volkswagen and Audi brands in December by 30 percent, according to company statements. The average of four analysts’ estimates was for an increase of 31 percent. The company exceeded its full-year target for U.S. sales of 500,000 vehicles in November and finished the year with 577,443.

GM’s Pickups

GM, the top-selling automaker in the U.S., boosted incentives on its trucks last month after warning it may end the year with more Chevrolet Silverados and GM Sierras than it planned. At the end of December, GM had 221,649 full-size pickups on hand, almost reaching its year-end target of 200,000 to 220,000. Deliveries of the Chevrolet Silverado rose 6.1 percent to 50,699 in December.

Sales of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, marketed by GM as its top model for fuel-saving technology, surged 72 percent last month to 2,633.

Ford said sales of the Escape sport-utility vehicle, recalled four times since it was introduced in May, fell 21 percent to 20,131. Ford Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields said last month that the recalls, which have included defects that could cause engine fires, weren’t hurting sales of the Escape, the automaker’s top selling SUV.

Ford Recalls

“In the first half of the month, Fusion sales were adversely affected by the recall,” and the Escape was in the “same situation,” Ken Czubay, Ford’s U.S. sales chief, said yesterday in a conference call. Fixes were made to the models’ engines by Christmas and the sales pace for both picked up after the holiday, he said.

Hyundai Motor Co. (005380) said in a statement that its sales rose 17 percent last month to 59,435. Combined with deliveries for affiliate Kia Motors Corp. (000270), South Korea’s two largest automakers increased sales 4.7 percent last month to 98,613. That was less than the 13 percent estimate for the Seoul-based companies that was the average of six estimates.

Annual combined sales for Hyundai and Kia rose 11 percent to a record 1.26 million cars and light trucks.

To contact the reporter on this story: Craig Trudell in Southfield, Michigan at ctrudell1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net

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