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.
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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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.