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.
The Los Angeles Auto Show has in recent years defined itself as the "green" car show. California has the largest auto market in the U.S., as well as the most environmentally preoccupied. But the most dramatic auto debuts during car show season, running through next spring, are traditionally reserved for Detroit, the auto industry's spiritual home. So L.A. has had to kick off car show season with its own attention-getting twist.
The L.A. Auto Show focuses on the dream machines, the future of transportation and, over the past decade, on electric cars, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, alternative fuel vehicles — in short, things with wheels that aren't total slaves to gas. But this year, it's different.
The new story is technology. Specifically, how cars will soon become platforms for various consumer electronics, mainly smartphones. In the past, automakers have preferred to design and build their own in-vehicle infotainment systems or partner with tech companies. The most prominent of these has been Ford and its relationship with Microsoft; Ford's CEO, Alan Mullaly, has also made regular pilgrimages to the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. General Motors has had a loose association with Google (and Google itself is the the auto game, with its driverless car). No one has yet broken through with Apple.
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.