A final salute at the winners of 2011
John K. Teahen Jr. is senior editor of Automotive News
A new sales year is upon us and things are looking up.
But before we analyze the January results scheduled to be reported on Wednesday, let's reprise how 2011 shook out.
It was not a good year for sales of new cars and light trucks, but there were winners, and they deserve a salute. So here goes.
The overall winner -- the best-selling light vehicle in the United States -- surprised only those who have been hiding under a rock for eons and eons.
It was the Ford F-series pickup. It was the 30th straight year the F series has led the pack, although it seems that Ford has led the truck race ever since Old Henry started making trucks in 1916.
Not quite. Chevrolet broke through in 1927, and the two rivals kicked the lead back and forth for the next half century, with Chevy winning the truck battle most years. But a car was always the top seller overall. Not so today. Today, the F series is lord of all it surveys.
The F series rang up 584,197 sales last year. The Chevy Silverado pickup was a distant second with 415,130.
On the car side, Toyota showed that it was down, but a long way from out. Despite unintended acceleration, numerous recalls, an earthquake, a tsunami and flooding in Thailand (a major production source), the Toyota Camry rang up its 10th straight year as the best-selling car in the United States.
All segments gain
Camry 2011 sales: 308,510. The Nissan Altima was second, 40,000 behind the Camry.
Turning to market segments, the Toyota Corolla-Matrix and the Chevrolet Cruze waged a tight fight for supremacy in the small-car class. It wound up Corolla-Matrix, 240,259; Cruze, 231,732.
Small cars counted 1,781,331 sales last year, up 17 percent from 2010.
In the mid-range group, the two best sellers were the two best-selling cars in the nation -- Camry and Altima. Five others had more than 200,000 sales: Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Honda Civic and Chevrolet Malibu.
Missing from that elite group was the Chevrolet Impala, with 171,434. Old-timers remember when Impala rang up seven-digit annual sales, like 1,038,400 in 1965.
The mid-rangers are the nation's best-selling vehicles. Last year's total was 3,302,946, up 3 percent from 2010.
Moving forward a notch to the upscale segment (near-luxury, luxury, premium-priced and ultra-high-priced), total sales were 785,767, a gain of 3 percent for the year. The upscale segment was a great revenue producer for the dealers who sold those vehicles. They brought in an estimated $35 billion.
Trucks up 14 percent
Topping the upscale autos was the BMW 3 series with 94,371, followed by the Mercedes-Benz C class at 69,314.
Finally, there are the alternative-powered cars. As I have written many times, those are the cars that everybody loves but almost nobody buys -- except for the Toyota Prius. With sales of 136,463, Prius accounted for 51 percent of the alternative-power cars sold last year.
OK, let's look at the truck winners. Trucks had a big year, up 14 percent over 2010; car sales grew only half that much.
Pickups, with total sales of 1,796,777, were up 12 percent and the leaders were the leaders in individual sales -- the Ford F series and the Chevrolet Silverado.
The minivan race was a three-way scramble with the Toyota Sienna winning with 111,429 deliveries. Half a step behind was the Dodge Grand Caravan, 110,862. The Honda Odyssey checked in with 107,068, and the Chrysler Town & Country wasn't far back at 94,320.
Minivan sales rose 4 percent last year, to 524,158.
Booming SUV sales
The crossover field is the industry's most crowded with about half a hundred nameplates vying for recognition. The net result was 2,653,522 sales, up 13 percent from 2010.
Standard bearer was the Ford Escape with 254,293, outdistancing the Honda CR-V with 218,373. The Chevy Equinox was third with 193,274.
SUVs had a glorious year, galloping past a million sales (to 1,196,814) for a gain of 25 percent over 2010. Please do not feel it's necessary to remind me that I once foresaw a steady decimation of SUV sales because of $4 gasoline and the swing toward smaller vehicles.
Best-selling SUVs were the Ford Explorer, 135,704, Kia Sorento 130,235, and Jeep Grand Cherokee, 127,744. Among the larger, more expensive models, the Chevrolet Tahoe sped by everyone with sales of 80,527.
You can reach John K. Teahen Jr. at email@example.com
You can reach John K. Teahen Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org.