For the U.S. automotive industry 2012 was the best year since 2007, while Chrysler posted a 10% increase in December sales, followed by General Motors at 4.9% and Ford at 1.9%.
Chrysler, the first automaker to report actual sales for December, said it sold 152,367 cars and trucks in December, its 33rd consecutive month of year-over-year sales increases.
Ford reported sales of 214,222 in December, up 1.9% from a year ago. That brings the total for the year to 2.25 million.
GM's sales rose 4.9% for the month and 3.7% for the full year. The automaker projected industry sales of 15 million to 15.5 million units in 2013.
"GM's strong finish in 2012, the industry's momentum and the overall health of the U.S. economy make us optimistic about 2013," said Kurt McNeil, GM's vice president of U.S. sales operations, in a statement.
In December, the company posted a 6.1% increase in sales of the Chevrolet Silverado, its most popular vehicle, to 50,699 units. The company reported a 13.4% increase for the Silverado's sister, the GMC Sierra, to 18,710.
GM sold 2,979 units of the new Cadillac ATS, named last month as a finalist for North American Car of the Year. The car nearly outsold the stalwart Cadillac CTS, which fell 37.8% to 3,372 in December.
For 2012, Chevrolet sales rose 4.3% to 1.85 million units, GMC rose 4% to 413,881, Buick rose 1.6% to 180,408 and Cadillac fell 1.7% to 149,782.
For the year, Chrysler's sales increased 21%, likely outpacing a projected 13% increase for overall U.S. industry sales and helping the Auburn Hills automaker increase its market share to an estimated 11.2% compared with 10.5% in 2011.
"We were again one of the fastest growing automakers in the country," Reid Bigland, Chrysler's head of U.S. sales said in a statement. "Seven of our vehicles recorded their best ever annual sales in 2012 demonstrating how the quality, design and fuel efficiency of our product line up continues to resonate with consumers."
Chrysler's results were led by its Dodge and Ram brands which saw sales increase 26% and 16% respectively in December. Sales of Chrysler's lower volume Fiat brand increased 59% while Chrysler increased 6% and Jeep declined 9% in December.
Ford's total for the year was only up 4.7% from 2011, while the industry as a whole is expected to end the year up about 13%.
Ford was hampered by an inventory shortage in the first half of the year and said it expected to lose market share as a result. The Dearborn-based automaker added 400,000 units of capacity, most of it in the third quarter.
The Ford brand alone sold 2.168 million, topping the 2 million mark for the second consecutive year.
"Ford finished 2012 strong, with retail sales showing improved strength as more customers returned to dealer showrooms," said Ken Czubay, Ford vice president, U.S. marketing, sales and service. "Ford's fuel-efficient cars and hybrid vehicles showed the most dramatic growth for the year, and we achieved our best year for commercial vehicle sales since 2008."
Other automakers are scheduled to report sales throughout the day today.
Automakers sold about 1.36 million cars and trucks in December, or about 10% more than last year, according to the average of three industry forecasts.
That would translate into a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 15.4 million for December, or the second fastest pace of the year.
For the year, industry sales are expected to top 14.5 million, a 13.4% increase over 2011 and the most since 2007.
In 2012, the pace of automotive industry sales steadily increased even as the national economy sputtered and often appeared to stall. Sales of cars and trucks increased in part because of pent-up-demand from the recession when people postponed purchases.
The rebound in sales occurred even though the industry cut its incentives.
For the year, the average new car incentive fell 5.1%, according to Edmunds.com.
In November and December, automakers boosted incentives slightly for year-end close-out sales. Still, the average new car incentive in December was $2,286, down 1% from December 2011, according to Edmunds.com.
Auto sales also increased during the final two months of the year because people in the northeast had to replace cars and trucks damaged in late October by hurricane Sandy or delayed purchases because of the storm.
By Brent Snavely
Gannett/Detroit Free Press