2012 New-Vehicle Sales: 'Exceeded All of Our Expectations'

Craig Cole
by Craig Cole

The number-crunchers have been earning their keep the last few weeks. With their mathematical weapon of choice in hand, be it a calculator, tally counter or even a trusty abacus, they’ve kept an exacting total of how many vehicles automakers sold over the past 12 months. How did things shake out? Which brand nearly doubled its sales for the year?

December Sales: Ho, Ho, Heck Yes!

December hosted a strong finish for the industry. Compared to the same month last year, overall sales in the United States were up 9 percent, topping 1.35 million units.

The Volkswagen Group, BMW and Honda returned some of the best performances. Vee-Dub’s overall sales grew by 31 percent. Bay Em Vay’s increased by an impressive 35 percent, while Honda posted a 26 percent increase.

Maserati’s year-over-year sales were up an eye-opening 40 percent in December, but its overall volume was tiny. Dealers moved just 333 vehicles for the entire month.

Of course where there are peaks there are also valleys. Not every automotive brand had growth to report. Sales at Ford’ s troubled Lincoln division fell by 12 percent in December to a little less than 7,400 units.

SEE ALSO: Detroit Three End 2012 With a Bang

Also, Kia is a brand that has been on fire lately, but surprisingly its sales dropped 10 percent in the 12th month of last year. The South Korean automaker fell just short of 40,000 unit sales.

Jaguar was down nearly as much with an 8 percent drop, and Mitsubishi is in freefall; its sales plummeted a whopping 18 percent to a paltry 4,113 units. It looks like the triple-diamond brand will be following Saab and Suzuki to the big parking lot in the sky if sales don’t improve soon. Its overall performance for the year was even worse, more on that in a moment.

2012 Sales: Year of the Dragon

Stabbing the clutch and shifting into high gear, overall sales in 2012 were even more impressive than the industry’s December showing. All told, automakers moved nearly 14.5 million units in the U.S. last year, 13 percent more than in 2011 where the odometer rolled just shy of 12.8 million.

Including Lexus and Scion, Toyota’s overall sales grew by a rock-solid 27 percent to nearly 2.1 million vehicles.

A real eye-opener was Daimler’s smart division. In 2012 its sales nearly doubled, topping 10,000 units. $99-per-month leases must have something to do with that because we can tell you, it ain’t from the product… Those tiny two-doors are dreadful to drive.

Fiat was another small-car success story. Sales of the spunky Cinquecento were up 121 percent in 2012. Dealers moved almost 44,000 of them. To be fair, the sales increase was huge because the car was only on sale for about 10 months in 2011, which really boosted that percentage increase.

For the year, Mitsubishi was down 27 percent. Dealers delivered fewer than 58,000 vehicles in 2012. For a little perspective, Ford sold about 54,000 F-Series trucks per month last year, delivering nearly 650,000 of them for the year. How Mitsu can make a business case selling so few vehicles in the U.S. is a mystery.

SEE ALSO: Top 10 Best-Selling Vehicles of 2012

Maybach’s sales were up 28 percent for the year. They sold all of 50 cars, most likely to 1-percenters.

Subaru continues its sales climb, posting a 26 percent increase in 2012. Deliveries topped 336,000 units. It pays to be quirky!

Automotive Crystal Ball

New-vehicle sales were surprisingly strong in 2012, but what’s in store for the New Year? Analysts are divided on what they expect to happen in 2013.

Dave Sullivan, an Analyst at AutoPacific said they haven’t finalized their projections for the year but “right now the numbers are looking pretty much in line with 2012.”

Sullivan said “2012 definitely exceeded all of our expectations. I don’t think anybody anticipated ‘12 to be as strong as it was.”

“Somehow we seemed to weather the fiscal cliff and the weak economy in Europe. The Japanese continued succeed even with a strong yen, so ‘13 is still looking strong” Sullivan said.

Taking a contrary stance on the issue, Jim Hall, Managing Director 2953 Analytics said “it all depends on what happens with the economy,” adding “I don’t see it being a plush year.”

Hall said people are watching their investments closely. If they see things drop significantly new-vehicle purchases will become a lower priority. This is particularly true of older Generation Xers and younger boomers “because they’re the ones looking at their financials” he said.

Splitting the difference, Larry Dixon, Senior Automotive Analyst at NADA said “we’re looking at growth again, but not like the last few years.”

“2010 through 2012 new-vehicle sales growth has averaged 11.7 percent” Dixon said, but it will “start to tail off as we reach a greater sense of normalcy.”

“We dodged a significant bullet, the fiscal cliff, but we still have clouds on the horizon” said Dixon. Some of those thunderheads include the debt ceiling and economic troubles in Europe.

On the positive side, pent-up demand is still strong and fuel prices are projected to be lower in 2013 than they were last year. Credit is also more available with low interest rates, something that reduces the cost of purchasing a new vehicle.

As for actual numbers, Dixon cited a consensus forecast from the Blue Chip Economic Indicators. This is a prediction put together by a bunch of economists from a variety of different institutions and industries. This panel of experts projects about 15 million new vehicles will be sold in 2013, which is more than a 3 percent increase compared to last year.

Let’s hope this growth can continue. The automotive industry was one of the few economic bright spots during the Great Recession.

Craig Cole
Craig Cole

Born and raised in metro Detroit, Craig was steeped in mechanics from childhood. He feels as much at home with a wrench or welding gun in his hand as he does behind the wheel or in front of a camera. Putting his Bachelor's Degree in Journalism to good use, he's always pumping out videos, reviews, and features for AutoGuide.com. When the workday is over, he can be found out driving his fully restored 1936 Ford V8 sedan. Craig has covered the automotive industry full time for more than 10 years and is a member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).

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