The tough sledding in December does not suggest a difficult 2014,
however, as several executives and analysts expect auto industry
growth to continue outpacing the overall U.S. economy as it has
since the recession.
In addition to the late U.S. Thanksgiving holiday weekend, December
sales were hurt by snow and ice storms that kept consumers away from
dealerships, automakers and analysts said.
"Sales were pulled into November, but also people were more impacted
by the compressed shopping season, most of which was in December,"
Kelley Blue Book senior analyst Karl Brauer said. "People were doing
more Christmas shopping than car shopping."
He added that industry-watchers should not be overly concerned by a
December that was affected by the timing of a holiday in the
previous month. Last month included January 2 due to a quirk in the
calendar that affected how automakers typically report monthly
Monthly auto sales are seen as an early indicator of consumer
U.S. industry sales in 2013 finished at 15.6 million vehicles, up
7.6 percent from 2012, while December results inched up 0.3 percent.
The annualized sales rate in the final month was 15.4 million
vehicles, well below the 16 million expected by economists surveyed
by Thomson Reuters.
The timing of Thanksgiving weekend had a greater impact on December
sales than in recent years, causing automakers to miss expectations,
said Mustafa Mohatarem, General Motors Co's chief economist.
The late December holiday season is generally one of the heaviest
sales periods at U.S. auto dealerships. GM, Ford Motor Co and
Volkswagen AG all said the weather was less of a negative factor
than the timing of the Thanksgiving holiday.
December sales were counted through Thursday, when much of the U.S.
Midwest was buried in snow. The storm is now over the U.S.
Northeast, but January sales will have time to recover from the
current storm as the bulk of sales typically occurs later in the
month, said Kurt McNeil, GM vice president of U.S. sales operations.
GM shares ended 3.4 percent lower at $39.57 while Ford shares rose
0.5 percent to close at $15.51 on the New York Stock Exchange on
BEST YEAR SINCE 2007
For all of 2013, industry sales were 50 percent higher than 2009
when they slumped to 10.4 million vehicles during the height of the
recession. It was the best full-year performance since 2007, when
sales hit 16.1 million vehicles.
While some economists and analysts expect 2014 sales to rise to
between 16 million and 16.5 million vehicles, there is growing
concern that competition will intensify, leading to higher
incentives and lower profit for companies.
Research firm TrueCar.com said vehicle transaction prices fell by an
average of $200 per vehicle in December, or 0.6 percent, over last
year, while incentives were up $103 per vehicle, or 4 percent.
The gradually improving economy, including stronger job and housing
markets, will drive future growth, as opposed to consumers' need to
replace aging vehicles, which the industry has described as pent-up
demand, said Bill Fay, U.S. head of the Toyota brand. He also cited
auto loan interest rates, near historic lows, as a positive.
Ford boasted the biggest gain in U.S. market share for the year,
adding four-tenths of a point to finish at 15.9 percent. Subaru also
showed the same rate of increase to 2.7 percent.
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Chrysler increased its share by two-tenths of a point to 11.3
percent, while GM was flat at 17.9 percent. The biggest losers were
Kia and its parent Hyundai Motor Co, which lost four-tenths and
three-tenths of a point, respectively, to 3.4 percent and 4.6
GM's December sales fell 6 percent, to 230,157 new vehicles, below
analysts' expectations of a slight sales gain.
Sales of GM's Chevrolet Silverado full-size pickup truck fell 16
percent in the month as analysts said the automaker did not load
incentives onto the redesigned vehicle to match what rival Ford was
doing with its market-leading but older F-Series.
Ford's sales rose 2 percent to 218,058 vehicles, missing
expectations. Its F-Series pickup truck, which finished as the
best-selling vehicle in the U.S. market for the 32nd straight year,
had an 8 percent sales gain.
Toyota's Camry finished as the top-selling passenger car for the
12th consecutive year.
GM introduced new versions of its Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra
pickup trucks last year while Ford will launch a redesign of its
trucks later this year.
Toyota Motor Corp's U.S. December sales fell 1.7 percent to 190,843
vehicles, versus expectations of a slight gain.
Chrysler reported a 6 percent gain last month in its U.S. auto sales
to 161,007 vehicles. That was the automaker's best December since
2007, but still narrowly missed analyst expectations. Ram pickup
truck sales rose 17 percent.
Jeep sales rose 34 percent in the month, led by the new Cherokee,
which sold four times as well in December as the vehicle it
replaced, the Jeep Liberty, did a year earlier.
Honda Motor Co sales rose 2 percent to 135,255 vehicles, which also
missed analysts' expectations.
Nissan Motor Co sales rose 10.5 percent in December, allowing the
Japanese automaker to finish with its best year for U.S. sales ever.
Hyundai and Kia saw their combined sales also miss analysts'
Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz won bragging rights as the top-selling
luxury brand, edging BMW by a count of 312,534 vehicles to 309,280
Chrysler is majority-owned by Italy's Fiat SpA. Earlier this week,
the two companies announced that Fiat would buy the remainder of
Chrysler that is currently owned by a United Auto Workers healthcare
trust, for $4.35 billion. That deal is expected to close by January
(Editing by James Dalgleish and Matthew
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