Auto Industry Wraps Up Strong Sales Year With Weak December

DETROIT (Detroit Free Press/MCT) -

Automakers can look past a slightly disappointing December and focus on the 15.6 million cars and trucks they sold in 2013, the industry’s best year since 2007.

Collectively, the Detroit Three gained a slim half-point of market share, largely on a surge in sales of large pickup trucks, a segment they still dominate.

Pickups accounted for about 12 percent of the market, up from 11 percent in 2012.

The nation’s best-selling vehicle once again was the Ford F-Series pickup – 763,402 sold, up 18 percent from 2012 – which delivered to Ford the title of the industry’s most popular brand for the fourth year in a row. The Dearborn, Mich., automaker’s sales rose 10.8 percent last year to 2.49 million, the highest annual total since 2006.

Toyota, however, said it was the No. 1 “retail brand,” which means it outsold Ford if omitting vehicles sold to businesses, governments and car-rental companies. About one-third of Ford’s total sales are to fleet buyers.

“If you add up all the sales, then it is Ford,” said Bill Fay, Toyota division group vice president. “It is a question of how you want to look at it.”

Toyota claimed two other sales crowns in 2013. Its Camry was again America’s most popular car. The company’s twelve Toyota and Lexus hybrid vehicles accounted for 60 percent of all hybrids sold in 2013.

“I think that is especially significant because we saw a steady decline of gas prices over the year,” Fay said. “This sales stability now indicates that hybrids are more accepted as mainstream products.”

Across town, General Motors remains America’s No. 1 manufacturer, with its four brands accounting for 18 percent of all U.S. industry sales in 2013.

But in December, sales of the Chevrolet Silverado fell 16 percent and sales of the GMC Sierra slipped 4.6 percent from the same month last year. Meanwhile, sales of Ford’s F-Series pickups rose 8.4 percent, and sales of the Ram 1500 jumped 11 percent.

McNeil pointed out that last December, GM was selling down its old pickup model in preparation for the launch of the redesigned models. He added that GM has been more disciplined in using incentives on pickups than competitors.

McNeil said that 95 percent of its pickup sales are now from the 2014 model, while 90 percent of Ford F-150 sales are 2013 models that are carrying bigger incentives.

Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said he doesn’t think Ford is taking buyers away from GM. Instead, loyal Chevy and GMC truck owners are probably waiting.

Chrysler finished the year with sales up 9 percent over 2012. After launching the Jeep Cherokee several months late, dealers sold 15,038 Cherokees in December, or 5,000 more than in November.

But even as automakers closed out their best year since 2007, December’s results were not as strong as expected.

The industry eked out a 0.3 percent increase from the same month a year ago.

Bigger sales after Thanksgiving, combined with colder weather and snowstorms in certain regions, put a damper on industry sales in December.

Domestic automakers also struggled to sell small cars in December. Sales of the Ford Fiesta slipped 20.2 percent, and Focus tumbled 31 percent, from a year earlier. Sales of the Dodge Dart fell 11 percent, while sales of the Chevrolet Cruze dropped 14.5 percent.

“December was a tough month for small cars overall,” said Erich Merkle, Ford’s sales analyst.