December Auto Sales Show Broad Growth

By Antonio Perez
Antonio Perez
Antonio Perez
January 6, 2010 Updated: January 7, 2010

NEW YORK—The U.S. auto industry saw broad sales growth last month, a clear signal that the industry is recovering from its years-long slump that saw General Motors Co. and Chrysler LLC undergo government-ushered bankruptcy last year.

Industry-wide, auto sales grew 15 percent in December, according to figures from automotive information Web site

Sales at Ford Motor Co. soared 33 percent in December, the company said this week. Sales at Toyota Motor Corp. jumped 32 percent during the same month, as consumers showed willingness to purchase new vehicles for the first time in months.

Ford’s December U.S. domestic sales increase was its biggest since May 2008.

“Ford’s plan is working,” said Ford Vice President of U.S. Marketing, Sales, and Service Ken Czubay in a statement. “People increasingly are discovering that the Ford difference is the strength of our products, particularly our leadership in quality, fuel efficiency, safety, smart technologies, and value.”

The company was the only major U.S. automaker to not need a government-assisted bankruptcy. It also increased its U.S. market share by 1 percent to 15 percent.

Toyota also saw its sales increase last month, with a 32 percent increase over December 2008.

“Emerging from the rollercoaster of 2009, the industry has gained positive momentum for a gradual recovery,” Toyota Senior Vice President of Automotive Operations Don Esmond said in a statement this week.

GM, Chrysler Still Struggling

GM’s light-vehicle sales dropped almost 6 percent last month, disappointing analysts who expected better performance.

“People are still concerned about GM’s future, and purchasing a GM car may seem like more risk than a consumer wants to take. This is a company that is still recovering from bankruptcy,” said Rebecca Lindland, an analyst at IHS Global Insight in an interview with BusinessWeek.

But GM’s numbers are a bit skewed, as the company is still in restructuring mode. The company experienced a 55 percent sales drop in brands it expects to sell or scrap, including Hummer, Saab, Saturn, and Pontiac. GM said that sales rose slightly at the four core brands it would focus on, namely Chevrolet, GMC, Cadillac, and Buick.

U.S. December sales at Chrysler, the smallest of the “Big Three,” fell modestly by 3.7 percent. Chrysler brand sales fell by 7 percent, Jeep declined by 10 percent, while Dodge saw growth of around 1 percent.