U.S. auto sales hit a five-year high in 2012, as low interest rates, improving consumer confidence and — most important — some great new cars drew buyers into dealerships.
General Motors, Ford and Chrysler posted December U.S. vehicle sales gains that exceeded analysts’ estimates, completing a year of surprising growth that helped propel the country’s economy.
U.S. deliveries of cars and light trucks climbed 10 percent for Chrysler, 4.9 percent for GM and 1.6 percent for Ford, according to company statements. Toyota, Honda and Nissan all trailed estimates.
Chrysler, which analysts predicted would lose market share in 2012, increased annual sales more than any major automaker other than Toyota and Honda.
Those automakers joined GM and Ford in adding shifts and jobs at their U.S. factories, contributing an outsized boost to the nation’s economic growth.
“If you want to hang your hat on something that’s really improved in our industry, it’s the North American auto business,” said George Magliano, senior principal economist for IHS Automotive. “It’s a shining piece of U.S. manufacturing.”
GM and Ford, the two largest automakers by U.S. sales, both issued 2013 forecasts calling for the industry to exceed 15 million deliveries. Analysts projected 15.1 million annual light-vehicle sales, the average estimate of 18 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.
Toyota’s December sales rose 9 percent, according to its website, trailing eight analysts’ average estimate for a 10 percent rise.
Honda sales climbed 26 percent, the company said, missing the 32 percent increase that was the average of eight analysts’ estimates. Nissan deliveries slipped 1.6 percent, falling short of the average estimate for a 2.7 percent gain.
GM’s full-year sales gained 3.7 percent to almost 2.6 million, the automaker said. Ford’s light-vehicle sales increased 4.7 percent to 2.24 million and Chrysler’s climbed 21 percent to 1.65 million.
Toyota’s annual deliveries rose 27 percent to 2.08 million and Honda’s climbed 24 percent to 1.42 million. Nissan set a company record for U.S. sales with 1.14 million, up 9.5 percent.
Industrywide car and light truck sales in the U.S. probably rose 9.8 percent in December, according to a Bloomberg survey of analysts. That would push deliveries for the full year to 14.5 million and cap a third-straight annual gain of at least 10 percent. The industry last recorded such a streak in 1973.
GM and Ford climbed to their highest closing prices since July 2011. GM rose 2.4 percent to $29.82 and Ford advanced 2 percent to $13.46.
Chrysler, which last year announced plans to add about 4,150 jobs across five plants, entered December with 11.4 percent market share, according to researcher Autodata Corp. The automaker’s increase of 0.7 percentage point from a year earlier trailed advances of 1.7 percentage points by Toyota and 0.8 percentage point for Honda.
Increased production to meet growing demand within the industry has been a bright spot for the U.S. Autos contributed 14 percent of the 2.2 percent average rate of growth for gross domestic product in the recovery that began in the third quarter of 2009 to the third quarter of 2012, according to the most recent data available from the Commerce Department.