DETROIT (AP) — - Big automakers are glad to see the end of 2009, the worst yearfor U.S. sales in nearly 30 years.
For most, 2009 was a rough year as credit froze, the economy andconsumer confidence faltered and unemployment rose. U.S. sales forthe full-year are expected to be their worst in nearly 30years.
Sales of smaller, cheaper vehicles, however, helped drive gainsfor some manufacturers. Hyundaicontinued its surge with an 8-percent yearly gain, while itslow-cost Kia brand reported2009 sales gains of nearly 10 percent and a 44-percent gain inDecember.
Japanese automaker Subaru, whichreported a 15 percent sales gain for the year, called 2009 anunqualified success.
General Motors and Chrysler took the biggest hits after bothwent through bankruptcy court and stayed alive with governmentaid.
For the year, GM sales were off 33 percent from 2008, whileDecember sales fell 9 percent.
Chrysler sold only 931,000 vehicles for the year, its worstperformance since 1962. The Auburn Hills, Mich., automaker sawsales drop 36 percent for the year but down only 4 percent inDecember, far better than the double-digit drops the companyreported earlier in the year.
Honda's sales were off 22 percent for the year but up 20 percentfor December, while Nissan was up 18 percent for the month but down19 percent for the year. Toyota sales were up a whopping 32 percentin December but down just over 20 percent for the year.
At Chrysler, December sales rose 36 percent over November,showing signs of some progress at showrooms but also helped byless-profitable sales to fleets such a rental companies andmunicipalities.
Ford Motor Co. said full-year sales declined 15 percent, but thecompany said it posted its first full-year gain in U.S. marketshare since 1995. It also reported a 33 percent increase inDecember sales thanks to strong demand for midsize cars like theFord Fusion, whose sales rose 83 percent. The Ford Escapecrossover, meanwhile, rose 75 percent.
Nissan's increase in December came from higher sales of itsVersa compact car. Subaru, famous for small all-wheel-drive carsand sport utility vehicles, said 2009 was its best year ever forsales and market share.
The auto industry underwent a radical transformation in 2009,one of the most turmoil-filled years in its more than 100-yearhistory.
Chrysler and General Motors, which both filed for bankruptcyprotection after nearly collapsing, are still suffering as theystruggle to revive sales and pay back huge government loans. Fordhas been a relative bright spot.
Total U.S. auto sales, reported later Tuesday, are expected todrop to levels not seen for three decades. Joblessness climbed over10 percent and buyers stayed away from showrooms, worried thatautomakers like GM and Chrysler might not survive. The last timesales were so low was in 1982, when 10.5 million cars sold duringanother bad recession.
Last summer, the government's Cash for Clunkers program easedthe pain by reviving sales with $2.85 billion in government-backedrebates. Americans responded, buying nearly 700,000 vehicles. Butfor the most part, 2009 was a dismal year for new vehicles.
Meanwhile, China surpassed the United States as the largest automarket, with sales expected to top 12 million in 2009. Asianmanufacturers 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 declinedto the lowest level in 38 years, falling to 2.9 million vehicles.But Germany, another major auto producer, said that car exportswere up in the quarter and year as the effects of the economicdownturn eased.
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