Automakers ended 2013 with a bang, selling about 1.4 million cars in December, according to preliminary estimates, ranking it among the best months in years.
For all of 2013, U.S. sales rose 8 percent to 15.6 million, thanks largely to a surge in pickup sales from the home-construction and energy industries. For the 32nd year in a row, the Ford F-series pickup was the country’s best-selling vehicle, with 763,402 sold. The Toyota Camry was the best-selling car with 404,484 sold.
Sales started slow in December as consumers focused on Christmas shopping but then came roaring back in the last week of the month as people used days off during the holiday period to shop for cars, said Erich Merkle, sales analyst at Ford.
Ford reported U.S. December sales up about 2 percent. The automaker’s sales grew 11 percent for the year.
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The automaker had a record sales year for the Fusion sedan and Escape crossover. December was also strong for trucks. The automaker sold 74,592 of its F-series pickups last month and 763,402 for the year, making it the top-selling vehicle in America.
But not every automaker posted gains last month.
General Motors said its sales fell 6 percent compared to the same month a year earlier. But for the year, GM’s sales rose more than 7 percent. Toyota’s U.S. sales dipped almost 2 percent, but sales rose more than 7 percent for the year.
Chrysler Group said its sales increased 6 percent last month and 9 percent for the year.
Nissan said its U.S. sales rose nearly 11 percent in December and more than 9 percent for the year.
By the time all the automakers report results, new-vehicle sales are expected to have risen almost 3 percent over the same month a year ago, for an annualized sales pace of about 16 million. That’s
about a 50 percent gain from the low of 10.4 million sold coming out of 2009.
“Auto sales were one of the brightest spots on the economic horizon last year,” said Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust in Chicago.
Still, there are worrying signs that an industry slowdown is coming, said Adam Jonas, an analyst with Morgan Stanley.
“Some key U.S. auto indicators imply we’re in late or even extra innings,” he said.
It could be harder to get buyers into cars in the coming year. Lending to consumers with subpar credit is already closing in on 16 percent, the peak prior to the recession.
Moreover, leasing now is at a record 30 percent of car sales. Incentives and discounts are starting to rise, and automakers are adding production capacity to their factories at a rate that is faster than consumer demand.