Automakers sold 14.3 million to 14.5 million vehicles in 2012, according to early estimates, making it the the industry’s best year since 2007.
“Auto sales have been resilient even through economic uncertainty,” said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with auto information company Edmunds.com.
Factors such as low interest rates and an aging fleet of cars that consumers need to replace kept auto sales growing throughout the year and should sustain the industry this year, Caldwell said.
General Motors said its December sales grew 5% to 245,733 vehicles.
“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, vice president of U.S. sales operations. “The budget compromise reached in Washington this week removes uncertainty and clears the way for full-year light vehicle sales to rise to the 15 million- to 15.5-million-unit range in 2013.”
Other automakers were more cautious in their outlook.
“It would have been nice if all the open questions with the 'fiscal cliff' would have been resolved over the holiday," said Jonathan Browning, chief executive of Volkswagen Group of America. The ongoing discussions don’t help the sense of confidence in the economy, he added.
Browning said 2013 auto sales could reach 15 million, but warned that could be influenced by the state of politics and the economy in the coming months.
For December, the automaker’s VW brand grew 35% to 44,005 vehicles, its best December since 1970.
Chrysler Group said its December sales grew 10% to 152,367 vehicles compared to the same month a year earlier. It was Chrysler's best December since 2007.
"Looking back on 2012, we were again one of the fastest growing automakers in the country with total sales up 21%,” said Reid Bigland, Chrysler’s U.S. sales chief “We also recorded 33 consecutive months of year-over-year sales growth and our strongest annual sales in five years.”
Ford had the smallest increase of the domestic automakers. Its December sales rose 2% to 214,222 vehicles. Still, it was Ford’s best December sales results since 2006.
Toyota said its U.S. sales grew 9% in December to 194,143 vehicles.
A host of new vehicle offerings should help the industry’s sales this year and next.
Automakers plan to make 43 new vehicle introductions in the U.S. this year, up nearly 50% over 2012 levels, according to auto research firm R.L. Polk & Co. In addition, 60 vehicle redesigns are expected in the coming year.
“New launch and refreshed product activity is likely to result in an uptick in registrations as showroom traffic and, in turn, sales tend to increase in the time frame surrounding new introductions,” Polk said in a statement.