Cliff, shmiff. Holiday shoppers brushed aside concerns about impending fiscal doom (which Congress averted, sort of) to drive new-car sales to their best December since 2007. Pickups trucks remained atop December's sales pyramid, with Chrysler's Ram trucks moving up a notch. That's typical for the month, especially amid a sustained recovery for the truck-reliant construction industry.
On the car side, Santa left Honda a nice present under the tree. A substantially restyled 2013 Honda Civic sedan hit dealerships in November and sales for the nameplate shot up 61.2% in December; it secured Honda's workhorse compact the title of America's best-selling car for the second month in a row. The Toyota Camry held the spot for the first 10 months of the year.
In fact, Honda sales overall shot up 26.2% over an inventory-strapped December 2011, thanks to strong demand for the Civic and redesigned Accord — two models that regularly account for nearly half of the automaker's sales. Toyota gained 9% while Nissan fell 1.6% as its redesigned Altima dropped 7.7%. The Altima boasts impressive EPA mileage, but drivability and cabin issues left the car in last place in Cars.com's $26,000 Midsize Sedan Showdown.The Detroit Three gained 5.1%, with overall sales up 7.9% for the year. All three reported their best Decembers since the recession — Ford since 2006 and Chrysler and GM since 2007. With higher incentives but much lower dealer inventory, the Ford Focus saw sales skyrocket 58.3%. Sales for the popular Escape, meanwhile, plummeted 21.3% as shoppers found few holiday incentives on the redesigned 2013 versus a heavily discounted 2012 last December.
Replacements for Hurricane Sandy-damaged cars may have added 50,000 sales in December, Credit Suisse estimated late last month. That's a relative blip on the radar and likely amounting to less than 0.4% of December totals when the final tallies come in. Transaction prices ebbed to just over $32,000 — their lowest point since April 2012 — thanks to rising dealer and automaker discounts, according to CNW Marketing Research. But they're still 6.4% higher than December 2011. What's more, prices for late-model used cars slid for the sixth straight month, driving more shoppers back to the used side. CNW reckoned last month that December could cap the best year for used-car sales since 2007.
If those factors created headwinds for new-car sales, you wouldn't have known it. Sales totals from the seven largest automakers increased 7.2% for the month, with 2012 totals up 12.9%. Check out December's best-sellers below. Oh, and if you read this morning's Fastest and Slowest Selling Cars, Acura notched 2,485 sales for the Civic-based ILX in December, making it the best-selling sedan in the brand's lineup. But the red-hot Civic still outsold it more than 13 to 1.