We avoided a bust in 2011 -- thanks to gutsy consumers

I'm happy to usher out the 2011 U.S. auto sales year. It's been, ahem, an interesting year -- in the same sense as in the ancient curse: "May you live in interesting times."

Mostly, it was the kind of year you want to scrape off your boots. Unrealized promise, dashed hopes, frustrating changes, confusion, uncertainty. And often scary -- right down to our cruel and savage planet itself.

Sometimes we wanted to scream "Quit screwing with us" at the unending parade of people and events afflicting our industry. Financial markets, European debtors, Congress, the basic economy.

Yet, I'm also a bit sorry to see 2011 go. It had redeeming qualities. As years go, it was, well, kinda plucky. You know, resilient.

And it had two big pluses. Sales did actually rise more than a million units. And, precisely because suppliers, automakers and dealers had so savagely cut to the bone to survive 2009, most everybody turned a profit.

But my favorite 2011 development was the emergence of hardier car buyers. An attitude of "Yeah, the economy stinks but I'm gonna buy a vehicle anyhow" is growing more common. It kept 2011 from becoming a bust.

But on reflection, so long 2011. I'm ready for 2012. I think I'm going to like it better.