A strong December helped push 2012 U.S. light-vehicle sales to 14.5 million units, up 13 percent from 2011 and the highest volume in five years.
Automakers sold 1.4 million cars and light trucks in December, 9 percent above a strong year-earlier performance. The seasonally adjusted annual sales rate was 15.4 million, the second straight month above 15 million and a performance that created momentum for 2013. The spoils were shared unequally. Volkswagen Group continued to surge as its namesake brand posted a 35 percent gain, also finishing the year up 35 percent.
The two biggest automakers, General Motors and Ford, lost market share with their single-digit percentage gains for the month and the year. Japanese rivals Toyota and Honda scored the biggest share gains. And Honda's Acura brand dealt a prestige blow to GM's Cadillac.
Although he doesn't expect 2013 to match the double-digit gains of the past three years, Toyota Motor Sales President Jim Lentz said low-cost financing, fresh products and U.S. population growth will keep the industry going.
"We see continued economic stability [this] year with modest growth," he said. "We expect the auto industry to remain at the forefront of an improving economy."
Jesse Toprak, vice president of TrueCar.com, also expects 2013 auto sales to hit 15.5 million, a 7 percent gain.
"December finished a year of very healthy recovery on a high note," he said. "As long as the financial markets are steady, auto sales will be OK."
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