The U.S. auto industry grew by 13.9 percent last year, with companies combining to deliver 14,491,873 vehicles in 2012. And at this point, despite a fairly mediocre December, there’s a general feeling that the marketplace has finally caught back up to its pre-meltdown levels. Consider: The industry was responsible for a bit over 16 million sales in 2007, which was when the first effects of the global economic collapse hit the auto business, and about 13.2 million vehicles were sold in 2008, as things started to get really ugly.
But while the industry’s numbers are on their way back up to where they used to be, the vehicles responsible for those numbers are sometimes far different from the leading names of 2007—as you’ll see while we review the best-selling mainstream cars of the year from some of the country’s top automotive segments.
(We’ll do the truck side of the business tomorrow.)
2012 Auto Sales: Nissan Versa Remains the Super Subcompact
As it has for a few years now, the Nissan Versa led the country’s subcompact segment in terms of volume in 2012, finishing with 113,327 sales that were up by 13.6 percent as compared to 2011. Thanks no doubt to its historically low MSRP, the Versa also was the only subcompact to break into six figures last year; on the other hand, the Nissan’s reign isn’t likely to last too much longer, and it’s some surprising rivals that could be pushing the car for the 2013 sales title.
The current models of the Chevy Sonic, Hyundai Elantra and Ford Fiesta finished in second through fourth place on the subcompact top-10 list, in that order, showing that popular small cars are no longer the sole domain of the Japanese automakers. The Sonic in particular was able to put some distance between itself and the next-highest seller, and while it wrapped up the year with a minor 4.3 percent sales increase in December, it’s proven it can hold its own—and then some—in its segment. Keep an eye on the Fiesta, too: Although the baby of the Blue Oval lineup endured a 17.2 percent sales drop last year, the Ford Fiesta finished strongly, with a 52.8 percent jump in volume in December.
The year-end numbers for America’s top mainstream subcompacts:
- Nissan Versa—113,327 sales; up 13.6 percent
- Chevy Sonic—81,247 sales; up 414.9 percent
- Hyundai Accent—61,004 sales; down 81.2 percent
- Ford Fiesta—56,775 sales; down 17.2 percent
- Honda Fit—49,346 sales; down 16.7 percent
- Fiat 500*—43,772 sales; up 121 percent
- Kia Rio—40,275 sales; up 100.3 percent
- Toyota Yaris—30,590 sales; down 6.5 percent
*The Fiat 500 is more of a minicar than a subcompact, but we’ll keep it here until the Chrysler Group debuts a proper entry for the class.
2012 Auto Sales: Honda Civic Is the Compact King
It was an eventful year for the leading seller in the compact segment. The 2012 Honda Civic launched with much fanfare, but its critical reception was so poor that the automaker already has rushed a heavily revised 2013 model to the marketplace. But you wouldn’t know that from the Civic’s steady run of sales success last year. The only compact to break 300,000 annual deliveries in 2012, Honda’s iconic small-car family—including coupe, sedan, hybrid and CNG-powered models—benefited from a 43.7 percent sales boost on the strength of 317,909 deliveries—and capped off the year with a 61.2 percent gain in December, when the Civic was the only vehicle in its segment to deliver more than 30,000 units (with a total of 33,118).
The No. 2 player in the segment was the Toyota Corolla—now also the oldest mainstream compact at dealerships—but a string of new faces followed. Here, it’s the Ford Focus that’s making the most noise, turning up the volume to 245,922 units in 2012 and advancing sales by 40 percent. And keep in mind, the Focus’ figures include a December in which the car boosted deliveries by another 58.3 percent, despite the increased competition from the new 2013 Honda Civic.
This year’s compact standings at the end of 2012:
- Honda Civic—317,909 sales; up 43.7 percent
- Toyota Corolla—290,947 sales; up 21.1 percent
- Ford Focus—245,922 sales; up 40 percent
- Chevy Cruze—237,758 sales; up 2.6 percent
- Hyundai Elantra—202,034 sales; up 8.4 percent
- VW Jetta—170,424 sales; down 3.9 percent
- Nissan Sentra—106,395 sales; down 7.5 percent
- Kia Forte—75,681 sales; up .8 percent
- Dodge Dart—25,303 sales after launching part way through 2012
2012 Auto Sales: Toyota Camry Extends Its Midsize Mastery
Yes, the 2012 selling season had its share of surprises, but the vehicle winning the midsize sedan segment wasn’t one of them. With a redesigned Toyota Camry on sale early this year against a Honda Accord that was right at the end of its lifecycle, the former swallowed up huge numbers of customers to become the only car in the country to sell more than 400,000 units—an increase of 31.2 percent as compared to 2011.
Yet despite the fact that the Camry outscored its arch-nemesis in 2012 by more than 73,00 units—404,886 sales vs. 331,872 sales—the results from December tell a slightly different story. Well, the Camry still topped the Accord, but its sales fell 6.3 percent to 31,407 units and the Honda’s total jumped by 66 percent, reaching 29,428 sales.
The premiere of the 2013 Honda Accord also may be telling on the rest of its rivals as well: Last month, for example, with the new Accord at dealerships, the recently redesigned Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion both lost ground. The Altima’s sales slipped by 7.7 percent versus December 2011, and the Fusion underperformed its previous year’s results by 10.8 percent; coincidentally, so did the 2013 Chevy Malibu.
The final results from 2012 in the mid-size sedan segment:
- Toyota Camry—404,886 sales; up 31.2 percent
- Honda Accord—331,872 sales; up 40.8 percent
- Nissan Altima—302,934 sales; up 12.6 percent
- Ford Fusion—241,263 sales; down 2.7 percent
- Hyundai Sonata—230,605 sales; up 2 percent
- Chevy Malibu—210,951 sales; up 3 percent
- Kia Optima—152,399 sales; up 80.2 percent
- Chrysler 200—125,476 sales; up 33 percent
- VW Passat—117,023 sales; up 412.5 percent
- Dodge Avenger—96,890 sales; up 51 percent
2012 Auto Sales: The Chevy Impala’s Final Fleet Feat?
2012 Auto Sales: The Chevy Impala’s Final Fleet Feat?
For what will probably be the last time in a long time, GM’s fleet-focused Chevy Impala was the country’s most popular full-size sedan last year, more than doubling the sales of its next nearest rival. Of course, as most industry watchers know, the Impala’s 169,351 deliveries—down 1.2 percent from 2011—went mostly to fleet and rental customers; an all-new 2014 Chevrolet Impala is slated to launch later this year as the brand’s flagship sedan and is expected to fill the same place in the Chevy portfolio that cars like the Toyota Avalon and Hyundai Azera do for their makers—which will almost certainly mean decreased sales.
In turn, that should move the Chrysler Group’s full-size duo—the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger—up a few places as those cars build on fairly strong performances from 2012. The Charger lifted its sales total by 18 percent last year, reflecting 82,592 deliveries, and the 300 did even better. The Chrysler product’s 70,747 sales were up 95 percent from 2011, and it continues to gain critical and popular acclaim for improved quality and innovation.
The full-size sedan leaderboard for 2012:
- Chevy Impala—169,351 sales; down 1.2 percent
- Dodge Charger—82,592 sales; up 18 percent
- Chrysler 300—70,747 sales; up 95 percent
- Ford Taurus—66,066 sales; up 4 percent
- Nissan Maxima*—59,349 sales; up 1 percent
- Toyota Avalon—29,556 sales; up 2.2 percent
- VW CC*—21,646 sales; down 26.6 percent
- Hyundai Azera—8,431 sales; up 453.2 percent
*Not exactly full-sizers, but included as premium alternatives to their brands’ mainstream mid-size choices.