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.
Anibal Ortiz / KPCC
The 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV is introduced at the LA Auto Show. It's the smallest vehicle in the entire GM lineup. It's all-electric. And its shows that GM is at long last taking small cars seriously.
Two concepts that, a decade ago, few would have uttered in the same breath. GM had left the small car market for dead. While it focused on trucks and SUVs and their nice, fat, profit margins, and also dedicated itself to turning Cadillac into a high-performance brand while simultaneously saving Buick, it left low-margin small cars to Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, and Kia.
Honda and Toyota got started in the U.S. market with small cars, so they always knew what they were doing. Hyundai and Kia, the South Korean upstarts, simply copied the Japanese playbook.
Then the financial crisis struck. The federal government bailed out GM, then the company went bankrupt. Somewhere amid one of its numerous pre-Chapter 11 restructurings, GM got religion on small cars.
Anibal Ortiz / KPCC
The 2013 Volkswagen Beetle at the LA Auto Show. VW had another great month for U.S. sales. But it wasn't alone.
The major automakers that sell cars in North America have all reported their November sales figures. Those sales are pretty much booming. The industry is on a pace to sell more than 15 million vehicles for all of 2012; that's a substantial increase over last year's 13 million, but not as torrid as 2005's all-time high of 17 million.
The big story was Honda, an automaker that's endured something of an identity crisis of late and that lost a lot of U.S. market share in the aftermath of 2011's Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Honda's November sales hit an all-time high. Of the more one million vehicles sold in the U.S. in November, almost 120,000 were Hondas. And year-over-year, Honda witnessed November sales leap by nearly 40 percent.
"Honda definitely has momentum in the marketplace," said industry analyst Jessica Caldwell of Edmunds.com. She added that Honda was the bestselling auto brand in the areas hit hardest by Superstorm Sandy, and that a combination of the Accord sedan, the CR-V compact SUV, and the revamped Civic (revamped after a tepid entry to the market last year) all helped Honda to rack up good 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.
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.
Let me draw a picture for you of the electric car market, circa autumn 2012. At the high end, you have Tesla Motors, selling or not selling, depending on your patience with the startup's delivery schedule, an all-electric Roadster, priced over $100,000; and an all-electric sedan, the Model 2, priced anywhere from about $50,000 to upwards of $100,000, depending on how you spec it out.
Then there's Nissan's Leaf, which can be be had for less than $30,000, once you get finished with various credits. The Ford Focus EV is in the same ballpark, around $30,000 once the tax credits kick in.
The Mitsubishi MiEV, even farther down the ladder, is yours for just over $20,000. But it's bare-bones.
You can lease, but not buy, the Honda Fit EV for around $400 per month.
Pretty much everything else is some type of hybrid or plug-in hybrid, so you don't get pure, zero-emissions, all-electric motoring.