U.S. car and light truck sales rose 13.45% to 14,491,873 last year. As is true in any industry with a large number of companies, there were winners and losers. This is not only based on unit sales improvement. Market share and expectations are other critical measures.
The two manufacturers with by far the greatest success were Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) and Chrysler. This was just as much because of low expectations as actual sales. Toyota has posted underperforming sales, based on years of success, because of tremendous recalls and the Japan earthquake, which set back production for more than a year. Toyota’s sales rose 26.6% to 2,082,504 last year. Its market share for 2012 rose to 14.4% from 12.9% in the year before. At its current pace, it could move ahead of Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) this year.
Chrysler’s sales improvement was up 20.6% to 1,651,787. Its market share rose from 10.7% to 11.4%. Chrysler’s success is shocking, and not just because the company was in Chapter 11. Its cars and light trucks often get low grades for quality and reliability. For some reason, its new models and marketing have overcome a very high hurdle in a U.S. market in which quality is prized among car buyers.
The two notable losers of the 2012 season were Volkswagen and Hyundai. Each needs to gain a substantial portion of the American market to be successful worldwide. VW’s U.S. sales were only 438,134, and its market share was only 3% in 2012. That is not nearly enough for a company that aspires to be number one in the industry worldwide.
Hyundai sales were extremely disappointing, certainly based on its success in the American market in the recent past. Hyundai’s units sold rose only 8.9% to 703,007. Its market share dropped from 5.1% in 2011 to 4.9%. Like VW, Hyundai cannot afford to lose the kind of ground it did to Toyota, Chrysler and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (NYSE: HMC), its three most natural enemies based on model line-ups. Even Nissan’s sales were better than Hyundai’s, up 9.5% to 1,141,656.
The winners and losers in the U.S. car market for 2012 may be measured in part by percentage improvements, or lack thereof, against the overall market. Beyond that, the best of the lot did better than expected and the worst ones lagged expectations.