December Auto Sales Dismal, Japanese Automakers Falter

By Antonio Perez
Antonio Perez
Antonio Perez
January 6, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015

General Motors Corp. during heavy snow December 19, 2008 in Detroit, Michigan. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
General Motors Corp. during heavy snow December 19, 2008 in Detroit, Michigan. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Merely days after General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC received their first portions of a federal bailout, more bleak news have hit the auto industry.

Due to the recent economic downturn, December U.S. auto sales across the industry were dismal.

Leading the pack in sales declines was Chrysler, following by—get this—Japanese automakers Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co., with General Motors and Ford Motor Co. not too far behind.

December sales were down a whopping 53 percent compared to 2007 at Chrysler, 37 percent at Toyota, 35 percent at Honda, 32 percent at Ford, and 31 percent at GM.

Chrysler reported by far the worst result among all large automakers. “Total sales were significantly affected by the industry's largest reductions in fleet sales: 63 percent for December and 31 percent for the year,” the company said in a press release.

Chrysler have already “made the necessary adjustments” to withstand the recession, Chrysler President Jim Press said in a statement.

Sales of the company’s Chrysler-branded vehicles were especially brutal, down 60 percent from December 2007. Chrysler PT Cruiser sales were down 81 percent. Dodge and Jeep sales declined 52 and 48 percent, respectively, the company said.

The company’s single most popular vehicle, Dodge Ram pick up truck, saw sales decreases of 48 percent. Chrysler sold 16,618 Dodge Rams in December, compared to 32,118 vehicles in the same month prior year.

GM again sold the most vehicles in the United States in 2008, with 2.95 million units, down 23 percent from 2007. Toyota sold 2.22 million, and Ford came in third place with 1.98 million cars sold in the United States.

Surprisingly, Subaru of America Inc. was the only major automaker to report positive sales increases in 2008. The Japanese company said sales numbers increased by 0.3 percent to 187,699 vehicles.

Large Drop at Toyota

The recession has not spared recent stalwart Toyota, a leader in environmentally-friendly vehicles. Surprisingly, sales of its Prius hybrid fell 45 percent, a sign that even “green” vehicles can’t avoid the economic crunch.

Despite December’s numbers, Toyota has held up better than its Detroit counterparts—the company’s Torrance, Calif.-based U.S. branch said U.S. sales fell 15.7 percent overall in 2008. Toyota has a broader lineup of smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles compared to its rivals.

However, the Japanese company said last month that it expects to post its first annual operating loss in 70 years.

Toyota pinned its hopes on a new federal stimulus package.

"The sooner stimulus efforts find their way to where they'll do the most good—into the hands of consumers—the sooner we'll see a turnaround in confidence levels and a return of buyers to the marketplace," Toyota U.S. President Jim Lentz said in a statement.