Jan. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Toyota Motor Corp.’s December sales gain beat analysts’ estimates and Kia Motors Corp. had the biggest increase among Asia-based brands, capping the U.S. auto industry’s best year since 2008.
Sales rose 0.4 percent from a year earlier for Toyota, compared with the average 1 percent drop of five estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Deliveries increased 43 percent for Kia, 13 percent for affiliate Hyundai Motor Co. and 7.7 percent for Nissan Motor Co., according to statements yesterday. Honda Motor Co. reported a 19 percent drop, citing tight inventory.
Industrywide sales gained an estimated 8.7 percent as consumer confidence reached an eight-month high in December, and carmakers aired holiday ads and continued promotions begun in November. Kia’s December surge in the U.S. gave the Seoul-based company a 36 percent full-year increase, the largest for a major automaker.
“Kia has even more potential this year,” said Rebecca Lindland, a Norwalk, Connecticut-based analyst for IHS Automotive. “Our forecast is for them to be up 23 percent. Hyundai will be up by double digits again in 2012, but right now everything new from Kia is selling really well.”
For all of 2011, the U.S. market share for Japanese and South Korean automakers fell 2.6 percentage points from a year earlier to 43.7 percent, according to Autodata Corp., a research firm based in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. The share declined as Toyota and Honda ran short of vehicles because of Japan’s March earthquake and tsunami, as well as floods in Thailand late in the year that limited parts supplies.
For December, their share was 43.6 percent, a drop from 46.5 percent a year earlier, Autodata said.
Industrywide light-vehicle sales in 2011 rose an estimated 10.3 percent to 12.8 million units, according to Autodata. Sales figures weren’t available from all automakers.
Toyota gained 0.2 percent to 2,650 yen as of 10:02 a.m. in Tokyo trading, Honda climbed 1.3 percent to 2,475 yen and Nissan declined 1.1 percent to 691 yen. Hyundai rose 1.6 percent to 227,000 won in Seoul trading, and Kia slipped 0.2 percent to 68,600 won.
Toyota, Asia’s largest automaker, said December sales of Toyota, Lexus and Scion models totaled 178,131. The gain was led by the new Camry, which posted 33,506 in sales and was the best-selling U.S. car for a 10th year in a row, said Jim Lentz, the Toyota City, Japan-based company’s U.S. sales chief.
“With consumer confidence continuing to show significant improvement, we believe this momentum will carry into 2012,” he said on a conference call yesterday.
Toyota’s 2011 U.S. sales shrank 6.7 percent to 1.64 million cars and light trucks. Its market share was 14.3 percent in December and 12.9 percent for the year, according to Autodata. The U.S. decline contributed to Toyota losing its top spot in global annual vehicle sales to General Motors Co.
Toyota will grow faster than the industry in the U.S. this year, with sales of about 1.9 million vehicles for a 15 percent increase from 2011, Lentz said.
That growth target won’t be easy to achieve, particularly because of tougher competition for Camry among midsize sedans, said Jeremy Anwyl, vice chairman of Edmunds.com, an auto pricing and data provider in Santa Monica, California.
“Toyota is looking to regain some market share, but I think that’s going to be an uphill battle,” he said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Street Smart.”
For Toyota and Honda, “segments they used to dominate are now incredibly competitive and that’s not going to change,” Anwyl said.
Toyota’s Lexus, which lost its top ranking for luxury sales in the U.S. in 2011, will be the fastest-growing in the category this year, said Mark Templin, the brand’s U.S. sales chief.
“We’ll have a huge volume swing especially because of the launch of nine new vehicles,” Templin said on a conference call. “It gives us a big push this year.”
Lexus sales will grow “well above 20 percent,” he said.
Honda sold 105,230 Honda and Acura vehicles last month and 1.15 million for the full year, down 6.8 percent from 2010. The Tokyo-based automaker curtailed production at plants in North America and Japan for months after the natural disaster in the Asian nation.
“As we eagerly close one of the most challenging years American Honda has weathered, we are well-positioned for a strong 2012,” John Mendel, executive vice president of the company’s U.S. sales unit, said in a statement.
The company is counting on its revamped CR-V small crossover and a redesigned Accord sedan and coupe due late in the year to boost sales, he said.
Honda’s market share for the year fell to 9 percent from 10.6 percent in 2010, according to Autodata. Its December share shrank to 8.5 percent, a drop of 2.8 percentage points.
Nissan sold 100,927 Nissan and Infiniti vehicles in December. The Yokohama, Japan-based carmaker was able to avoid significant production cuts in 2011, and boosted its annual U.S. sales 15 percent to 1.04 million vehicles.
“We were very fortunate this year that we didn’t really miss any production,” Al Castignetti, vice president of U.S. sales for Nissan North America, said in a telephone interview. “We had the opportunity to pick up some market share.”
Nissan’s U.S. share rose 0.4 percentage point to 8.2 percent for the year, according to Autodata. Its December share declined 0.1 point to 8.1 percent.
Altima Outsells Accord
The midsize Altima, Nissan’s highest-volume U.S. model, was second among cars in the U.S. in annual sales, behind Toyota’s Camry. The Altima outsold the Honda Accord for the first time.
“While Hyundai and Kia drew more attention last year, Nissan was a company that has been one of the quiet achievers in the market,” IHS Automotive’s Lindland said.
Hyundai, South Korea’s largest automaker, said U.S. sales rose to 50,765 in December. For the year, the Seoul-based company’s sales gained 20 percent to a record 645,691.
Kia, Hyundai’s affiliate, sold 43,390 cars and light trucks in December, and a record 485,492 for the year.
Combined sales for Hyundai and Kia, which share engines, platforms and a chairman, increased 25 percent in December, less than a 27 percent average estimate of four analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.
For the year, combined sales at the carmakers, which maintain separate U.S. operations, climbed 26 percent to 1.13 million vehicles, more than Nissan for the first time.
Japan’s Mazda Motor Corp. raised sales 4.1 percent last month and 9.1 percent for the year. Subaru, the auto brand of Toyota affiliate Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., reported gains of 26 percent in December and 1.2 percent for the year.
Mitsubishi Motors Corp.’s sales rose 0.4 percent for the month and 42 percent in 2011, and Suzuki Motor Corp. had a 3.1 percent decline in December and an 11 percent increase for the year.
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