December Sales Snowed In, but Automakers Break Annual Records Anyway

Compared with December 2012, last month's overall sales volume was up just 4.2%--a noticeable slowdown from recent months. Analysts blame a series of snowstorms for keeping car buyers at home, as well as strong November sales that might have reduced demand over the holidays. Nevertheless, for many car companies and individual brands, the year 2013 was one for the record books.

Highlights: December 2013 Car Sales

Despite persistently high unemployment rates and congressional failure to extend unemployment benefits at the end of 2013, luxury car buyers were visiting showrooms in full force. Some highlights for December 2013:

  • With the arrival of the new 2014 Ghibli, combined with the availability of an all-new Quattroporte, Maserati sales rose 216% vs. the same month a year ago.
  • Bentley and Jaguar posted big gains, enjoying 48% and 47% increases in sales, respectively.
  • Mercedes-Benz sales soared 18% thanks to the recently introduced CLA-Class and S-Class models.
  • Among mainstream brands, Mitsubishi rose 56% for the month thanks in part to the new Outlander SUV and Mirage subcompact car.
  • Jeep also did well, with sales rising 34% thanks in part to the redesigned Cherokee.
  • Brands that suffered declines of more than 20% for the month include Chrysler, Scion, Volkswagen, and Volvo.

December 2013 Year-Over-Year Performance, Major Automakers

Viewed from the overall corporate perspective, six automakers improved sales in December 2013, compared with the same month last year, six declined in terms of sales, and one remained flat from 2012.

  • Among major automakers, Daimler AG sales increased 17% in December 2013, compared with the same month last year.
  • Chrysler Group sales increased 6%, Ford Motor Company sales rose 2%, and General Motors sales fell 6%.
  • Nissan increased sales by 11%, followed among Asian automakers by Subaru at 10% and Honda at 2%.
  • Asian companies declining in sales included Mazda (down 16%), Hyundai Group (down 2%), and Toyota (down 2%).
  • Volkswagen Group sales declined 12%, while Volvo fell 21%.
  • BMW sold 130 more cars in 2013 than it did in 2012, a flat year-over-year performance.

Highlights: 2013 Annual Sales

In total, U.S. light-vehicle sales in 2013 rose 7.6% on a selling-day adjusted basis, to nearly 15.6 million vehicles, according to J.D. Power's auto forecasting partner, LMC Automotive. That final tally is lower than previous forecasts due to flat December sales.

  • Ford gained the most market share of any company in 2013, and had one of its most profitable years ever. The automaker sold 763,402 F-Series trucks alone, which would stretch from New York City to Los Angeles if lined up bumper to bumper. Combined, the F-Series, Escape and Fusion sold 1.4 million units in the United States, and Ford as a brand was the only one to sell more than 2 million vehicles.
  • Mercedes-Benz won the luxury sales race, besting BMW to top the charts for the first time since 1999. For the year, Mercedes sold 312,528 vehicles, a 14% improvement over 2012. Steve Cannon, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, credited the new CLA and S-Class models, the revamped E-Class lineup, and improved customer service for the achievement. In 2014, a redesigned C-Class model goes on sale.
  • Maserati led all brands, mainstream and luxury, in terms of annual growth with a year-over-year increase of 75%. Jaguar followed with a 41% sales gain.
  • Other brands seeing greater than a 20% increase in year-over-year sales include Subaru (26%), Bentley (24%), Cadillac (22%), Ram (22%), and Porsche (21%).
  • Chrysler, Fiat, Infiniti, Kia, Lincoln, Smart, Volkswagen, and Volvo all saw sales declines year over year.
  • In the biggest sales category, full-size pickup trucks, the redesigned Chevrolet Silverado couldn't overcome big incentives from Ford and Ram, and among the three, the Silverado's annual sales increase was the smallest.

Forecasts for 2014 see continued strength in the light-vehicle market, but rising interest rates, an easing of pent-up demand, and expiration of certain tax incentives point to moderation in sales growth. That has at least one automaker, Hyundai-Kia, publicly announcing that it expects the slightest improvement in terms of sales and market share than it has seen in nearly a decade.