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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LA Auto Show: German performance and Italian style in Porsche Cayman and Fiat 500e

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Anibal Ortiz / KPCC

Fiat unveils its all-electric 500e at the LA Auto Show. The wee two-door will get 80 miles per charge, Fiat claims.

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Anibal Ortiz / KPCC

The "L" in the Fiat's 500L is for "large." It was unveiled at the LA Auto Show and will take on the MINI Countryman.

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Anibal Ortiz / KPCC

Fiat's topless 500c Abarth, a convertible version of its performance-tuned mini-car, was revealed at the LA Auto Show.

LA Auto Show - 25

Anibal Ortiz / KPCC

What's missing from my Fiat 500 Abarth? Could it be...the roof?

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Anibal Ortiz / KPCC

The 2014 Porsche Cayman makes its debut at the LA Auto Show. You could call it the entry-level Porsche, but if you did, you'd need to remember that there really is no such thing as an entry-level Porsches. All Porsches are end unto themselves.

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Anibal Ortiz / KPCC

The 2014 Porsche Cayman at the LA Auto Show. With the revamp, it's gotten a bit bigger.

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Anibal Ortiz / KPCC

The 2014 Porsche Cayman looks just as good in severe metallic gray as it does in jubilant sunflower yellow.


Porsche usually gets a room at the L.A. Auto Show. Seriously. Rather than joining the rest of the automotive world in the big exhibition halls, Porsche does its "there is no substitute thing" in a smaller hall. It's the Chamber of Porsche. It's Porscheworld and it has been for a while. 

Fiat, on the other hand, is in the process of returning to the U.S. market for the first time in decades. Why? Because Fiat and Chrysler are joined, a consequence of the bailout and bankruptcy of the smallest of the Detroit Big Three automakers in 2009. Fiat is currently selling one car, the stylish 500, an update of an iconic postwar set of Italian wheels. Initial sales were  slow, but the car has been doing much better of late.

So why not roll out some new versions? That's exactly what Fiat has done Wednesday at the L.A. Auto Show, with an electric model, the 500e. The company claims it'll deliver 80 miles per charge. That's about where other EVs in the market are, so the 500e can join the tussle with the likes of the Nissan Leaf and the Honda Fit EV.

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October auto sales: It was a good month for just about everybody

Ford And GM Report Large Drops In Monthly Sales

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Ford saw fairly weak year-over-years sales improvements for October but still hung into its number two spot in the ferociously competitive U.S. market.

October U.S. auto sales are in the books, as every carmaker who sells vehicles has now reported.

Some of the notables were Chrysler, with a 10.2 percent increase over last year, its best October since 2007; Volkswagen, with a 20.4 percent surge from last year; and Toyota, whose nearly 16 percent uptick year-over-year shows that the biggest Japanese automaker is poised to regain the market share it lost to General Motors and Ford after the tsunami and earthquake last year.

The real story is how tightly bunched GM, Ford, and Toyota are in terms of U.S. market share. They aren't separated by much more than a point or two: GM has about 18 percent, Ford has 15-and-a-half; and Toyota has about 14. 

That's more than a third of the market right there. The remaining two-thirds is being fought over, at various price levels, by no less than 17 automakers. Okay, you can take Ferrari and Maserati out of the competition — neither marque sells more than 300 cars a month. But other companies are aiming to compete and compete vigorously, if the world's most competitive auto market. 

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September auto sales: A 15-million sales year?

Ford And GM Report Large Drops In Monthly Sales

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

September U.S. auto sales were solid for most carmakers. The market is now on pace to see its best year since before the financial crisis.

Most of the major automakers reported positive U.S. sales for September — and even laggards Ford and Nissan contained their fairly modest losses. The big winners were Chrysler, Toyota, and Honda.

In the case of the Japanese Big Two, this is particularly important, as both were hit hard by the earthquake and tsunami that crushed their sales in 2011.

The U.S. auto market is the most competitive in the world. It essentially collapsed during the financial crisis, but it has rebounded substantially. The U.S. is now on track to see nearly 15 million in new vehicles sold in 2012, after a lot of analysts expected something closer to 14.5 million. During the dark days of 2009, that number was slightly more than 10 million - not enough sales to support the number of carmakers who sell cars in the U.S. market.

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With Jeep and Fiat, Chrysler has a very good September

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Chrysler was almost dead in the water in 2008. Now it's posting some of its best sales since 2007.

The automakers are reporting September sales today, and the stage is set for a pretty solid month, keeping the U.S. on pace to see 14.5 million in new car sales for the year, and improvement of 1.5 million over last year. 

Remember Chrysler? The company was widely regarding as a basket case in the industry in 2007-08, when it lurched into a government bailout, and bankruptcy, and subsequent takeover by Italy's Fiat. Flash-forward four years and Chrysler/Fiat is a lean, mean automobile-selling machine. 

Its September results are interesting for two reasons. First, the company posted a 12-percent gain over last September and its best month for sales since 2007 when it was, you know, not yet bailed out, bankrupt, or taken over by Fiat. Second, it posted good numbers for one of Chrysler's most iconic marques, Jeep, and specifically the rough-and-tumble Jeep Wrangler, the spiritual core of the brand. But on the Fiat side, the revamped 500 model is also gaining some traction, after an iffy introduction to the the U.S.A. 

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