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[NEW YORK] US automakers reported strong December domestic sales on Monday to cap off a solid year of growth, with consumers still readily buying cars and trucks despite a record year of recalls.
Analysts estimate the December surge took the total 2014 US market to more than 16.5 million vehicles, giving the industry its best year since 2006, just before the economy began sinking into crisis and recession.
GM reported that it had the best December in seven years, with a 19 per cent year-on-year rise in US unit sales. That brought the top US automaker's total for 2014 to 2.94 million vehicles, a 5.3 per cent rise.
FCA US, the new name of the US arm of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, said its December turnover came in 20 per cent above the previous year and marked a 10-year high. That pushed the full-year 2014 sales of what used to be Chrysler to 2.09 million, a 16 per cent rise from 2013.
But Ford, which continues to gear up for full production of its new all-aluminum F-150 pickup truck, said its best December in nine years meant only a one percent gain from the year-ago month, and left sales for the entire year flat at 2.48 million vehicles.
Japan's Honda and Toyota, both of which produce most of their US-sold vehicles in the United States, also turned in big December figures. Toyota sold 2.37 million cars last year, 6.2 per cent over 2013, while Honda racked up a record 1.54 million units for the year, a one per cent rise.
STRONG 2015 EXPECTED
The December numbers came in better than analysts had predicted, and provided new evidence that the economy continued to grow strongly through the end of the year.
The robust sales came despite the US industry recalling some 62 million vehicles last year for faulty and often dangerous equipment and parts, 30 million of them by GM.
That cast a cloud over the industry's commitment to safety, but it did not seem to have an impact on new car shopping.
"Low gas prices, a record stock market and the improving economy are making people feel more financially comfortable," said Jessica Caldwell of industry consultant Edmunds.com.
Industry consultant Autodata estimated total US sales last year were 16.5 million units, up 5.9 per cent from 2013. Analysts are now forecasting the market to beat 17 million next year.
"The momentum the economy carried through 2014 accelerated in the fourth quarter," GM's chief economist Mustafa Mohatarem said in a statement.
"Car-buying fundamentals remain strong and we expect higher industry sales in 2015." Volume gains for all three US automakers were strongest in the truck and sport utility vehicle categories, as cheap gasoline continues to mitigate the extra cost of the relatively low-mileage vehicles.
But the data shows consumers still somewhat conservative, choosing smaller SUVs.
Both for the month and the year, GM's Buick and GMC truck and SUV divisions led the gains, while its luxury unit Cadillac continued to drag, down 11.1 per cent in the month and 6.3 per cent for the full year.
For Ford, growth was strong in its Escape SUV and its Fusion sedan, while its F-series trucks, perennially the best-selling vehicle of all in the country, fell 1.3 per cent year-over-year.
Ford, the second-largest of the Detroit "Big Three" automakers, said the decline was due to its slowed output during the year to retool for the launch of the lighter aluminum F-150, which went on sale in December.
"Demand for the all-new F-150 also is very high, and it now is the fastest-turning vehicle in Ford showrooms, averaging just five days on dealer lots in December," said Ford US marketing vice-president John Felice.