Nearly 1.4 million F-series trucks, Escapes and Fusions helped make Ford Motor Co. the industry's biggest market-share gainer in 2013 as the company turned in one of the most profitable years in its history.
Ford added almost half a point of U.S. market share, more than double the gains by any of its major rivals. Its sales rose 11 percent, and the Ford division was the only brand to sell more than 2 million units during the year.
F-series sales of 763,402 -- which Ford pointed out was more than enough to line up end-to-end from Los Angeles to New York -- were the highest since 2006, the highest of any nameplate in 2013, and 59 percent more than the second-place Chevrolet Silverado.
"Dealers are looking at record profits, which are good, and so is the manufacturer," said Jeff Carlson, who owns two Ford dealerships in Colorado. "It's like the old 'A-Team': 'I love it when a plan comes together.' We all are pretty happy this year."
Overall, industry sales increased 8 percent in 2013 to 15.6 million vehicles. But the strongest year since 2007 ended on a relatively weak note, with December sales rising just 0.2 percent from a year ago.
The seasonally adjusted annualized selling rate fell to 15.4 million, from 16.4 million in November. Many analysts had forecast a rate of at least 16 million for December.
Automakers and dealers said they had fewer customers than expected in the week after Christmas, which normally produces a flurry of activity because of big sales promotions and efforts by dealerships to achieve year-end targets. Executives said snowstorms may have kept some buyers away, and November's unusually strong sales also may have been a factor.
"December is one of those months that's very heavily back-end loaded, and that final push in the last week and a half of the month wasn't quite as strong as we anticipated," said Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst for Kelley Blue Book. "Perhaps some of those consumers that may have purchased at the end of the year already pulled the trigger in the last couple of months because there were so many deals out there."
General Motors, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. and Hyundai-Kia Automotive each said sales fell from a year ago. Volkswagen Group of America reported a 12 percent decline, its largest of the year, and Subaru's 10 percent gain was its smallest of the year.
An 11 percent increase for Nissan North America was the largest among full-line automakers, resulting in total sales for the year of more than 1.2 million vehicles, a record for the company.
Sales of full-sized pickups, which were up 19 percent through November, were flat in December. Sales of SUVs, which typically attract more buyers as winter arrives, were down 8 percent.
Car sales fell 4 percent. Compact cars were down 9 percent, including declines for the four highest-volume nameplates: the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus.
At GM, all four brands reported year-over-year declines in December, though each ended in positive territory for the year. Executives pointed to aggressive incentives offered by some competitors and said the company is committed to maintaining the pricing discipline that has helped generate big profits since its bankruptcy.
"Being disciplined is more than just some New Year's resolution for us," Kurt McNeil, GM's head of U.S. sales, said during a conference call.
TrueCar.com estimated that incentives were 4 percent higher across the industry in December than a year ago. It said incentives rose 22 percent at Ford, 18 percent at Hyundai-Kia and 15 percent at American Honda, while GM's rose 4 percent and Chrysler's declined 9 percent.
At the same time, TrueCar said average transaction prices declined $201, or 0.6 percent, last month compared with December 2012.
At Ford, the F series, Escape and Fusion combined to account for more than half of the company's 2.5 million sales in 2013. Sales of those three models were up 18 percent, and they represented 85 percent of the total volume that Ford added during the year.