Explaining Southern California's economy

2012 auto sales: Trucks are back, but so are the Japanese carmakers

2013 Ford F-150

Ford

The Ford F-150 pickup had a very good December — and a nice 2012, as Detroit carmakers saw sales of pickups recover. But Japanese carmakers also fared well.

All the major automakers who sell vehicles in the United States have reported December sales and there are two main storylines:

•Trucks are back

•The Japanese are, too

Let's tackle the second one first. After the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, Toyota and Honda lost significant market share in the U.S., where both had thrived up to that point. The catastrophes severely disrupted the global automotive supply chain. Although both companies operate plants in the U.S., they weren't able to built enough vehicles to meet rising demand.

Nissan fared better, largely because its supply chains are less concentrated in Japan.

General Motors reclaimed the top spot in U.S. market share, and Ford was able to surge past Honda, which was entering something of an identity crisis as U.S. consumers fell out of love with the Accord and Civic sedans they had reliably purchased for years.

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New U.S. car sales pick up big time in 2012

Scott Olson/Getty Images

We can't build them fast enough!

The auto industry, particularly the U.S. auto industry, has started off the year with a bang. This is from the New York Times:

Many analysts say they are confident that United States sales for all of 2012 will surpass 14 million vehicles, a target that seemed overly optimistic several months ago. In contrast, industry sales were 12.8 million last year and 10.4 million in 2009.

[...]

General Motors, whose sales rose 12 percent, said March was the first month ever that it had sold more than 100,000 vehicles with highway fuel-economy ratings of at least 30 miles per gallon. They represented about 40 percent of G.M.’s sales.

This is all very good news, on several fronts. It's great for the automakers, who don't ever, ever, want to replay 2009. But it's also good for consumers, who now feel confident enough about the economy's future to go into debt to buy new cars. That might sounds bad, but it isn't. It means consumers credit is flowing.

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