DETROIT (AP) — Big automakers are glad to see the end of 2009, the worst year for U.S. sales in nearly 30 years.
Ford and Chrysler both saw sharp declines, but each claimed to have momentum going into this year. Subaru, however, said last year was an unqualified success.
It was a tough year for the industry, as credit froze, the economy and consumer confidence faltered and unemployment rose. U.S. sales for the full-year are expected to be their worst since 1982.
Chrysler Group LLC posted its worst sales in 47 years, selling just over 931,000 cars and trucks. It was the first time sales dropped below 1 million since 1962.
But its December sales rose 36 percent over November, showing signs of some progress at showrooms but also helped by less-profitable sales to fleets such a rental companies and municipalities. Compared with December of 2008, monthly sales slipped just 4 percent, a far smaller drop than the double-digit declines seen for most of the year.
Ford Motor Co. said full-year sales declined 15 percent, but the company said it posted its first full-year gain in U.S. market share since 1995. It also reported a 33 percent increase in December sales thanks to strong demand for midsize cars like the Ford Fusion, whose sales rose 83 percent. The Ford Escape crossover, meanwhile, rose 75 percent.
Japanese automaker Nissan reported an 18-percent rise in December sales from the same month a year earlier, thanks on higher sales of its Versa compact car. But for the year, sales dropped 19 percent. Subaru of America Inc., said 2009 sales rose 15 percent and December sales climbed 33 percent, ending a year the company said was its best ever for sales and market share.
General Motors, Toyota, Hyundai and others will report December and full-year sales figures later Tuesday.
The auto industry underwent a radical transformation in 2009, one of the most turmoil-filled years in its more than 100-year history.
Chrysler and General Motors, which both filed for bankruptcy protection after nearly collapsing, are still suffering as they struggle to revive sales and pay back huge government loans. Ford has been a relative bright spot, but also needs sales to pick up this year.
Total U.S. auto sales, reported later Tuesday, are expected to drop to levels not seen for three decades. Joblessness climbed over 10 percent and buyers stayed away from showrooms, worried that automakers like GM and Chrysler might not survive. The last time sales were so low was in 1982, when 10.5 million cars sold during another bad recession.
Last summer, the government’s Cash for Clunkers program eased the pain by reviving sales with $2.85 billion in government-backed rebates. Americans responded, buying nearly 700,000 vehicles. But for the most part, 2009 was a dismal year for new vehicles.
Meanwhile, China surpassed the United States as the largest auto market, with sales expected to top 12 million in 2009. Asian manufacturers like Hyundai surged by selling more affordable cars, though stalwart Toyota stumbled on factors like its biggest U.S. recall ever over accelerator problems.
Japan’s auto sales were equally poor last year. Sales declined to the lowest level in 38 years, falling to 2.9 million vehicles. But Germany, another major auto producer, said that car exports were up in the quarter and year as the effects of the economic downturn eased.