Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCAU:US), Nissan Motor Co. (7201), and Honda Motor Co. all reported rising vehicles sales in the U.S. in December, capping the best year since 1996. Nissan beat estimates last month and had its biggest year of auto deliveries in the market. Honda fell short of predictions.
Fiat Chrysler’s U.S. unit sold 193,261 cars and trucks last month, up 20 percent for December and giving full-year sales a 16 percent boost on its way to gaining the most market share. Analysts had estimated a jump of 23 percent last month. The market’s shift to light trucks, which outsold cars every month of the year for the first time since 2004, played to the group’s strengths, such as its minivans, Ram pickups and Jeep sport-utility vehicles.
“Our best December sales in a decade pushed our full-year sales over the 2 million unit threshold for our best annual sales since 2006,” said Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales for the Auburn Hills, Michigan-based unit. “Last year marked our fifth-consecutive year of annual sales growth in the U.S., and once again, we were the fastest-growing automaker in the country.”
All automakers were projected to report sales increases in December as the strengthening job market, available credit and the lowest gasoline prices in more than five years bolstered consumer confidence. Deliveries are projected to rise again this year for an unprecedented sixth straight year, albeit at a slowing pace, as volumes return to pre-recession levels.
The annualized selling rate, adjusted for seasonal trends, may have been 17.3 million, including medium and heavy trucks that typically account for at least 200,000 sales annually, said the former Chrysler Group, which now calls itself FCA US. The average of 13 estimates was for a light-vehicle selling rate of 16.9 million, down slightly from November’s 17.2 million, but still the third-fastest pace of the year.
Dealers last month may have sold 1.5 million cars and light trucks, the average of seven analysts’ estimates, which would bring the full-year total to 16.5 million and cap a 58 percent increase since 2009, when General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC restructured in bankruptcy. Light-vehicle sales in the U.S. averaged 16.8 million from 2000 to 2007. The record, set in 2000, was 17.4 million. Buyers of new models have been undeterred by record recalls, mostly of older vehicles.
Chrysler brand sales rose 53 percent, led by the new 200 family sedan, which nearly tripled deliveries, to 16,229. It was the brand’s best December in seven years.
Jeep sales jumped 19 percent to 63,274, powered by the Cherokee, Grand Cherokee and the Wrangler. Ram pickups soared 32 percent to 44,222. For the year, Ram pickup sales jumped 24 percent to 439,789.
FCA US now reported rising sales for 57 consecutive months under Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne, and dealers are feeling good.
David Kelleher added 9,800 square feet of showroom floor and service space at his FCA US dealership near Philadelphia last year to keep up with sales that rose more than he forecasted. He’s adding as many as six salespeople.
Nissan and Infiniti brands combined to sell 117,318 models last month for a 6.9 percent gain that topped the average estimate for a 6 percent rise. Full-year sales rose 11 percent to 1.39 million, led by a 12 percent increase in deliveries for the namesake brand.
“Nissan had its all-time best year on the strength of our core vehicles — Altima, Sentra, Versa and Rogue, as well as Nissan Leaf, which had the best-ever year for any plug-in vehicle in the industry,” said Fred Diaz, Nissan’s senior vice president for U.S. sales, marketing and operations. “We expect low gas prices and high consumer confidence to be the magic formula that continues to bring more buyers into dealer showrooms.”
Honda sales rose 1.5 percent, less than the 6.3 percent increase predicted by analysts.
Honda finished the year with 1.54 million vehicle sales, a 1 percent increase. Sales by the company’s namesake brand rose 1 percent with an 11 percent increase in compact Fit sales and 10 percent growth in sales of CR-V compact sport-utility vehicles. Deliveries by the premium Acura climbed 1.5 percent as the TLX sedan replaced the mid-size TL and MDX SUV sales rose 24 percent.