Auto Industry Believes 2009 Close Bodes Well for 2010

By Michelle Krebs January 5, 2010


Some day, automakers hope to look back on 2009 as the year that both sales and corporate fortunes finally bottomed out. It's far too early to tell if history will treat last year that way, but for now, at least, the industry is taking heart from a definite surge of sales momentum as the decade closed.

Automakers sold about 10.4 million units last year, a disastrous tally that comprised the lowest total of light-vehicle sales in this country since 1970.

Automakers sold a grand total of 10.4 million vehicles in 2009, a 21 percent decline from 2008's 13.2 million, which was thought to be pretty awful then.

"It was a difficult year for the industry," summarized Donald Esmond, senior vice president of automotive operations for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., in a careful understatement.

Yet December's seasonally adjusted sales rate of more than 11.3 million units, after a strong rate of 10.89 million units in November, means that recent sales trends are promising. While not yet shouting from the mountaintops, neither are auto executives whistling through the graveyard anymore; they currently occupy a position that defines "cautious optimism."

But they like the way things are headed these days, especially compared with the frightening doldrums of a year ago. The rough industry consensus calls for sales this year to increase by about 10 percent or more, to a range of 11.5 million to 12.5 million units for all of 2010.

Lightening Up

"The industry will continue to pick up steam in the months ahead," Esmond added.

Automakers credited the nascent and strengthening economic rebound for a good part of their growing optimism about 2010.

"There are increasing signs of a global economic recovery," said Michael DiGiovanni, head of global industry analysis for General Motors.

Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, Ford's chief economist, noted that "for the first time in 35 years, we have a global synchronous economic recovery going on." While many trouble spots remain for the American car market -- most notably the stubborn lack of income and employment growth in the United States -- manufacturing is picking up globally, she said, and "we do expect global vehicle sales to resume growth this year after two consecutive years of decline."

Worldwide total-vehicle sales peaked at 71.5 million vehicles in 2007, the Ford economist said, then plunged for two years in a row to settle at 64 million units last year. For 2010, Hughes-Cromwick said, Ford expects global vehicle sales of 65 million to 75 million units.

Better Foundations

Three macro trends within the U.S. industry are among the biggest reasons that cautious optimism, indeed, is returning to auto executive suites.

One of them is how industry-wide inventories have plummeted over the last several months because of the sales collapse of the last two years, huge cutbacks in production, the demise of several GM brands and the elimination of hundreds of GM and Chrysler dealerships.  

GM, for example, achieved its lowest month-end inventory total ever and, for only the second time, a number below 400,000 units. "This is an appropriate number for a 10.5-million industry," DiGiovanni said.

Meanwhile, Ford's inventories at the end of December were about 382,000 units, down significantly from about 441,000 vehicles a year earlier. Importantly, too, 95 percent of the units in stock at Ford dealerships are 2010 models. "We're in very good shape there," said George Pipas, Ford's head of U.S. industry analysis.

The second trend is how a firming advance in sales, combined with production cutbacks and low inventories, is allowing automakers to step off the gas significantly in terms of how much in cash incentives they must dangle in front of American consumers to get them to buy cars. Ford, for instance, has reduced its incentive spending by about 20 percent compared with a year earlier.

"We won't see such a big push to get these vehicles out" in 2010 as last year, said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of U.S. industry analysis for The industry was spending a monthly record average of more than $3,000 a vehicle in incentives last March, according to's proprietary Total Cost of Incentives formula.

And third, there's a gradual but pronounced loosening of credit throughout the economic infrastructure that supports auto sales, including dealers and consumers.

"There's been a pronounced improvement in credit availability and consumer balance sheets," said Ford's Hughes-Cromwick.'s Caldwell noted that about 15 percent of transactions industry-wide in December were leases, which she called "about the highest this year" and "a good lease month."

Shifting Brand Fortunes

As the books closed on 2009, the U.S. auto industry also beheld some major shifts in the relative fortunes of companies and brands during the year -- certainly the most tumultuous series of such developments in decades.

Here were the major ones:

- General Motors and Chrysler cratered, plunging into bankruptcy and emerging basically emaciated as wards of the federal government and their own unions. One result was that GM pared back to four core brands and Chrysler's customer traffic dried up.

- Arguably, Toyota vaulted for the first time to the top of the U.S. industry as the company's retail sales finally outstripped those of its largest domestic rivals for the year. Only the fact that Toyota's fleet business is a fraction of GM's kept Toyota from the top spot overall, which GM continued to occupy.

- Ford became re-ascendant thanks to timely payoffs from the overhaul of its product line, capacity retrenchment, and prescient moves in the private financial markets a couple of years ago -- as well as its decision to forego federal assistance during the depths of the sales depression last spring. It even began breathing down Toyota's neck for the No. 2 spot.

- There was more jockeying than in recent memory for spots among the rest of the industry's Big Six. For the first time, Honda easily outstripped a wounded Chrysler for the fourth position, for the year selling about 14 percent more vehicles than the third member of the old Detroit Big Three. And the surging Hyundai-Kia franchise fell only about 35,000 units short of overtaking struggling Nissan for the sixth spot.

- Audi outshone the other German luxury makers, at least on a relative basis, with its overall 2009 market-share gain expected to comprise the largest of any imported luxury-car brand.

GM paragraph down.jpgGM: Ends '09 With "It's All Good" Attitude

2008 Chevrolet Malibu - 240.JPGSure, General Motors Co.'s 30.1 percent sales decline in 2009 was a bitter pill. But after the kind of year the industry had -- and the little matter of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy the former CEO said would be the death of the company -- GM's new-look executive team will take it.

After all, the "new" GM still managed to slide past the 2-million mark in total sales -- the only automaker to do so; 2,084,492 to be exact, compared with 2008's 2,980,688 total.

And the company's year-end market-share stake of 20 percent kept it firmly in front of Ford Motor Co.'s 16 percent and Toyota Motor Corp.'s 17 percent.

So after surviving a bankruptcy and the worst auto market in decades to post a full-year sales performance effectively in line with everyone else's pain, GM's new executives are pointing to what they consider a fresh and viable foundation laid for subsequent years.

Susan Docherty, GM vice president, U.S. sales, noted the most significant positive factors as GM moves into 2010:

- GM is weaning itself from fleet sales. Docherty and Mike DiGiovanni, executive director, global market and industry analysis, told reporters during a conference call GM reduced its mix of fleet sales by 38 percent compared with 2008 and has every intention of sticking to the 25 percent ratio of fleet sales it considers ideal. GM's fleet mix in December was just 23 percent, while other major competitors were much higher.

Outsized fleet sales destroy profit margins, residual values and brand equity, GM's execs say, as they insist the company will not be lured by the market-share pumping potential heavy fleet mixes offer.

- Fourth-quarter market share was 0.8 of a point higher than the third quarter, and as noted above, GM held its position as the U.S.'s top maker by market share. "Clearly, we're moving in the right direction [in terms of market share]," Docherty said.

- The company has markedly reduced its inventory levels and, as with its fleet-mix mandates, plans to keep it that way. For only the second time on record, GM's monthly inventory was less than 400,000 units in December and the month's inventory of 385,000 units was the lowest monthly figure in GM's records.

DiGiovanni said inventory numbers probably will be higher in 2010 as total industry sales are expected to rise (GM is sticking with its broad-range forecast of 11 million to 12 million light-vehicle sales in the U.S. for 2010), but GM will be considerably more watchful of the inventory-demand relationship than it has in the past.

- GM says it has greatly reduced its average incentive (currently $3,900 compared with $6,400 a year ago) and increased average transaction prices. This is largely attributed to the continuing clearance of heavily discounted units from the four divisions the company is eliminating and the presumed desirability of its much-touted new "launch products" such as the Chevrolet Equinox and Buick LaCrosse.

But the close of 2009's books leaves dust that can't be ignored.

In terms of volume and market-share retention, GM is facing an uphill battle next year as it permanently loses four sales channels: Pontiac, Saturn, Saab and Hummer. Pontiac will be most missed: even in a "wind-down" mode, the division sold 178,300 vehicles last year -- tens of thousands more than either Buick or Cadillac and 100,000-plus more than Saturn.

GM spends considerable time comparing the performance of the "core" brands it's retaining, but despite the presence of at least one of those new launch products at each division, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC all endured a steep sales decline in 2009.

Cadillac led the slide with a 32.3 percent drop and barely crept into 6-figure sales territory with a total of 109,092 sales for the year. Worse still, while Caddy's truck sales were off just 17.4 percent, cars declined a dizzying 40.2 percent. Cadillac sold just 62,971 cars in 2009 and every car model line was down by large percentages, including the best-selling CTS (-34 percent) and the flagship STS, which plunged 59.2 percent to just 6,037 transactions for the entire year.

At Chevrolet, apart from the new Camaro, which racked up 61,648 sales since its March launch, the year's best performer was the still-strong Malibu, which slid 9.4 percent. The aged and badly outdated Impala was off 37.7 percent, the soon-to-be-replaced Cobalt dived 44.3 percent and the mighty Corvette's 13,934 sales (half of 2008's figure) meant the Chevy flagship suffered what appears to be its worst sales year since 1961.

And for a company that still depends heavily on pickup trucks and SUVs, GM's 2009 sales are a stark reminder that the truck business may never again reach its recent heights. Several nameplates are being eliminated with Saturn, Hummer, but volumes are low.

Yet sales of Chevy's fullsize pickups were down 33.4 percent to a stunning 332,976. The GMC Sierra was down 33.6 percent.

The ever-present Chevy Suburban and Tahoe SUVs dropped 24.1 percent and 20 percent, respectively, with Suburban sales at 41,055 for the year; Tahoe's volume looked somewhat healthier at 73,254.

An ominous signal for the midsize-pickup segment comes from the 40.4-percent slide for the Colorado (to just 32,413 units) and an almost nonexistent 10,107 for its GMC Canyon counterpart.

Despite several months of sales for the new LaCrosse, Buick could manage but a 102,306 sales for the year, a 25.4 percent decline. The Enclave crossover contributed an amazing 43,150 units, nearly 42 percent of Buick's total sales for the year.

And the GMC division declined by 31.1 percent in 2009. Every GMC nameplate had a double-digit sales decline.

Toyota paragraph down.jpgToyota: Year of Living Dangerously

Toyota Camry - 236.JPGToyota finished the year with 1,770,149 sales in the U.S., a decline of 20 percent from 2008. And in this and other ways, it performed more like a traditional domestic automaker than the do-no-wrong pacesetter from Japan.
The company found itself unable to avoid the problems that beset the entire industry partly because its broad product line finally exposed it to the myriad weaknesses of the U.S. auto market overall.

Toyota's messy recall of roughly 4 million cars because of risky floormats last year was another huge blow, affecting its rock-solid reputation for safety and giving at least some American consumers pause.
"A year and a half ago, Toyota still looked like such a titan -- invincible," said's Caldwell. "Now there are opportunities for other companies to take market share from Toyota and grow."

Nevertheless, Toyota did mark some big accomplishments in 2009. For one thing, its Toyota division became the industry's best-selling brand, better than the Chevrolet and Ford marques that are the flagships of its two biggest rivals.

The Camry sedan once again was America's best-selling vehicle. Plus in 2009, the Toyota Corolla subcompact came in No. 2.

Lexus retained its position as the best-selling luxury brand in America for the 10th consecutive year. And Toyota's Scion brand continued as the "youngest" brand in the industry, with buyers' median age at 29 years old.

"We closed on an upbeat note and feel great momentum going into 2010," said Toyota's Esmond.

Esmond and other Toyota executives cited a handful of reasons for their specific optimism about their company in the new year. For one thing, the company plans 10 product introductions over the next 12 months -- new or refreshed models, including a new version of its Toyota Sienna minivan, in February.

"All three brands have a lot of product news for 2010," said Bob Cater, head of the Toyota division.

Esmond also cited the fact that Toyota will be introducing a third-generation Prius hybrid and boosting production to help meet continued hot demand for the segment trailblazer.

Toyota executives dodged reporters' questions about whether their new marketing and advertising this year would directly address the disappointment of the recall by, for example, emphasizing their vehicles' safety attributes more.

New advertising will "stress the attributes of the Toyota brand," Carter said, which only include 'safety and value' as parts of a long list."

Esmond added, "It's time for us -- as we see the market recovering -- to get back to what traditionally has been beneficial to Toyota: advertising the attributes of the brand."

Ford paragraph down.jpgFord: A Once and Rising Star  

Ford's smart plays in 2009 couldn't prevent it from posting a 15 percent decline 2009 Ford F-150 for pickup story - 270.JPGin overall sales compared with 2008, down to 1.62 million units.

But nearly all the other marketplace arrows began pointing "up" for Ford last year. Ford estimates that its full-year 2009 market share was about 15 percent -- up about 1 percentage point over 2008, marking the company's first full-year U.S. market-share increase since 1995. Ford also improved its retail market share 14 times in the last 15 months.

The Ford Fusion set a new full-year sales record of 180,671 sold. The Ford Escape had its second best year ever with sales of 173,044. Ford F-Series, including light-to-heavy duty, returned as the best-selling vehicle in America with full-year sales of 413,625 units.

In measuring "brand metrics" such as consumer opinion, Ford also has found reasons to beam. "Favorable opinions such as shopping Ford products and intentions to buy are at record levels," said Ken Czubay, vice president of U.S. marketing sales and service. Ford's surveys show that consumer intentions to buy a Ford product, he said, have risen more than 30 percent.

"In some ways the improvement in brand health is the most gratifying result of the year," Czubay said.

Overall, he added, "The processes and disciplines of the last few years enabled us to navigate this difficult...environment, and build a strong foundation for future growth. Ford's plan is working."

Czuby and other Ford executives also are placing big bets on some new products in 2010 to help the company build on its momentum. The new Ford Focus will be unveiled at the North American International Auto Show next week, for example.

Ford also will introduce a new version of its Super Duty F-Series pickup truck, featuring a 6.7-liter diesel engine. In the past, the Super Duty model has accounted for about 40 percent of total sales of the F-Series line, so Ford believes this introduction could goose sales in a segment that is still responding only sluggishly to the modest recovery in industry sales.

"We're cautiously optimistic that we'll see some improvement in the full-size segment" of the truck market this year, Czubay said. "It hasn't responded as much as we thought it would so far, but it should improve this year. It depends on the housing market," where further recovery would fuel contractors' purchases of replacement and new pickup trucks.

Czubay also noted the 2010 introduction of the new Ford Fiesta in the U.S. "We've taken more than 3,300 reservations for it, and had 90,000 'hands raised'" as consumers indicate their interest online, he said. "And we haven't even built one yet."

Still, Czubay insisted that Ford executives aren't resting on what remain relatively modest laurels even after they had the best year among the industry's major automakers.

"While the economy may continue to recover," he said, "we expect competitive challenges to continue to multiply. We won't just count on momentum to carry the day for Ford."

Honda paragraph down.jpgHonda Drops a Surprising 19.5 Percent in 2009

American Honda Motor Co. isn't really accustomed to letdown years, but 2009 can't be described as anything else: sales declined by 19.5 percent, the Honda CR-V - 225.JPGcompany seems to be losing its connection with customers young and old -- and Honda saw a healthy portion of who probably should have been its customers pirated by Hyundai during the Cash for Clunkers program.

All of the car and truck lines of Honda and its Acura premium division lost ground in 2009. Every individual car and truck nameplate for both Honda and Acura posted full-year sales declines. The best performance was the CR-V's 3.1 percent decline compared with 2008.

Yes, every single model Honda and Acura sells in the U.S. notched a losing season. Nobody's yet said but that surely has never happened before.

The best thing John Mendel, American Honda executive vice president, could say: "The good news is that the market appears to be stabilizing and we have more reasons for optimism in 2010. There seems to be light at the end of the tunnel; let's hope it's not another train coming, but rather, brighter days ahead."

Honda's total sales for 2009 were 1,150,784; Acura chipped in with 105,723 sales, which amounted to a 26.8 percent slide compared with 2008. Honda hung on in the pitiful market to improve its market share by 0.2 percent.

At the Honda unit, the Accord midsizer dropped 22.2 percent and the Civic compact was off by 23.5 percent. The Fit subcompact was Honda's best passenger-car performer with a 15.9 percent decline.

Honda has to feel particularly stung by the outlandishly weak launch of the all-new Insight hybrid. After projecting full-year sales of 90,000 units, the sales total for the Insight's initial 9-month sales period was 20,572.

Apart from the CR-V, Honda's "trucks" didn't do much better than the cars. The Ridgeline midsize pickup plunged 51.4 percent, a number not unfamiliar to most midsize pickups, and the aged Element box-mobile ended up 43.7 percent in arrears. The two combined for barely 31,000 sales. The Pilot midsize crossover declined a relatively modest 13.3 percent to log 83,901 sales.

For Acura, total sales were off 26.8 percent in 2009 and the unit's best performer was the entry-level TSX, which dropped a modest 10.5 percent for the year.

But Acura has to be wondering what train wreck caught the flagship RL, which plunged 54.8 percent to a pitiful 2,043 sales for the entire year. The MDX crossover lurched to a 31.3 percent drop to 31,178 sales, while the RDX compact crossover practically turned up missing with its 10,153 sales, a 35.9 percent decline compared with 2008.

Chrysler paragraph down.jpgChrysler: Survives Bankruptcy for Shaky 2009 Finish

After closing almost all of its North American assembly plants for an extended period in the third quarter of 2009 and running through a "quick rinse" Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June -- then ushering in new management from Italy -- the new 2009 Dodge Journey - 240.JPGChrysler Group LLC had its hands full just staying in the game.

The company teetered to full-year sales decline of 35.9 percent, according to data from -- and ceded a significant 18.9 percent of market share, dropping from 11 percent in 2008 to just 8.9 percent share in 2009.

Most telling of the severity of Chrysler's 2009 and trend of declining sales, its full-year sales of 931,402 marked the first time since 1962 that Chrysler sold fewer than 1 million vehicles. For the decade, data analysts say Chrysler sales declined 63 percent.

And in terms of market share, Honda and its 11.1 percent share skated past Chrysler (Honda trailed Chrysler by just 0.1 percent in 2008) for the first time. Nissan and the Hyundai Group (Hyundai and Kia combined), with respective 7.4 percent and 7.1 percent share, are breathing down Chrysler's neck, too, as the company faces 2010 with virtually no new product to help defend its eroding turf.

For 2009, every Chrysler model except for the Dodge Challenger and Journey recorded a sales decline. Chrysler rallied just 228,684 car sales for the entire year, a precipitous 44 percent dive.

Chrysler's trucks outsold its passenger cars by more than three-to-one -- an ominous situation in a market seemingly still turning away from trucks and body-on-frame SUVs -- and still posted a 33 percent decline.

The newly formed Ram brand, comprised of the Ram pickup line, the Dakota midsize pickup and the Sprinter commercial van, was off 32 percent in 2009, including a gaudy 59 percent plunge for the Dakota, which found just 10,690 buyers in all of 2009.

At the Jeep division, still widely considered Chrysler's most valuable asset, sales for the year were off a stubborn 31 percent, led by sharp declines from Jeep's two ill-conceived car-based models, the Compass' 54 percent plunge (11,739 sales for the entire year) and the Patriot's 44 percent dip.

Jeep lost more than 100,000 sales for the year, from 333,901 in 2008 to 231,701 sales in 2009, a situation making the company's goal of selling 800,000 Jeeps globally by 2014 seem all the more difficult.

Meanwhile, the Chrysler brand dropped by nearly half, losing 47 percent of its sales compared with 2008, skidding to just 177,015 sales in 2009. The once-formidable 300 flagship is but a shadow of its former self, tallying 38,606 sales for a 38 percent drop, and the Town & Country minivan was the brand's best performer with a 29 percent decline.

The Journey crossover's 14 percent gain and the Challenger's 48 percent sales hike (both were launched with 2008 partially over, skewing year-over-year comparisons), offset big declines from all of Dodge's other models to leave the brand down 34 percent for 2009.

Nissan paragraph down.jpgNissan: Trying To Recreate Relevance

Nissan sales declined in 2009 by more than 19 percent, to 770,103 vehicles compared with sales of 951,350 vehicles in 2008. Yet it fared relatively better 2008 Nissan Altima Coupe - 240.JPGthan some of the other biggest OEMs in the U.S. market, posting its highest company market share.

Still, Nissan's annual sales total was the lowest in the U.S. since 739,000 units in 2002.

Nissan division sales declined by almost 18 percent in 2009, as the company made little product "news" and its flagship Altima sedan saw sales slip by nearly 25 percent compared with 2008. Sales of Rogue, however, set a record of 77,222 sales, a 7 percent increase over 2008, and sales of Maxima and Z saw increases of 13 percent and 27 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile, plagued in part by the luxury-segment downdraft and also by the fuzzy identity of its brand, Infiniti saw 2009 sales plunge by more than 28 percent compared with the previous year, led by a 46 percent descent for the M series.

"The industry is coming out of a very tough year; it's good to see 2009 behind us," said Brian Carolin, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Nissan North America.

Yet Carolin said that Nissan executives remained "encouraged by some signs of economic improvement" as well as by the company's busier new-product schedule for 2010. Fiscal 2010, he said, "promises to be one of our most active new-vehicle launch years in recent history," with the introduction of eight new vehicles planned for the U.S. market, including the Leaf battery-electric car.

Hyundai paragraph up.jpg Hyundai: Thank You, Sir, May I Have Another

Most automakers are delighted to get 2009 behind them. The burgeoning Hyundai Group can only wonder what it might have achieved in a "normal" year.

2010 Hyundai Genesis coupe - 250.JPG Or was it because 2009 was so awful for "the establishment" automakers that Hyundai thrived?

Hyundai (along with Kia, the other auto brand owned by the Hyundai Group) didn't really change its formula of packing loads of value and above-average economy into a well-priced (and often well-incentivized) vehicle. Instead, Hyundai executed a brilliantly conceived marketing program -- Hyundai Assurance -- that resonated with jittery customers in a jittery sales environment.

Add a dose of effectively timed and intriguingly styled new products -- particularly for Kia -- and Hyundai joined the newly thriving Subaru as the two automakers to improve sales in 2009. Hyundai group sales improved by 8.9 percent and fell short by less than 34,000 vehicles of matching Nissan's sales in the U.S.

Another factor that can't be overlooked: Hyundai was one of the undisputed winners of the month-long Cash for Clunkers program and in August, the month that contained the bulk of Cash for Clunkers sales, Hyundai broke the 100,000-unit sales mark for the first time in its history.

Hyundai's total sales jumped from 401,742 in 2008 to 435,064 last year.

According to data from, Hyundai's market share (7.1 percent) leapt 38.2 percent in 2009 to reach an all-time high; Hyundai said it increased market share every month of the year. From a volume standpoint, the year was Hyundai's third-best on record, never mind an overall market that declined by 2.8 million units. The two years when Hyundai sold more vehicles, 2006 and 2007, saw total industry sales in excess of 16 million units compared with 2009's total of 13,199,239.

Almost all of Hyundai's models notched sales increases in 2009 save those being discontinued and declines for the Veracruz and Tucson crossovers and the Entourage minivan.

The Kia brand improved sales by 9.8 percent in 2009 and contributed a resounding 300,063 to the Group's total, thanks to a strong acceptance of the all-new Soul hatchback (31,621) and Forte (26,328) compacts introduced partway into the year and a solid increase for the Sportage crossover and even reasonable sales of the husky Borrego SUV (10,530 units).

So if 2009 was a bad year, Hyundai is figuring bring on a little more of that stuff.

"We are looking forward to 2010 and have reason to be optimistic," said Dave Zuchowski, Hyundai Motor America's vice president of national sales.

"Led by our strongest product lineup ever, highlighted by the all-new Tucson and all-new Sonata -- and more great products in the pipeline -- the ranking by the EPA as the most fuel-efficient car company in America, and the enhanced Hyundai Assurance program, it's clear that we're already off to a great start in 2010."

Subaru: Record-Shattering Year 2010 Subaru Legacy - 225.JPG

Subaru marched through 2009 as if there were no recession. The Japanese automaker closed the year setting an all-time record.

Subaru sold 216,652 vehicles in 2009, an increase of 15 percent from 2008 and surpassing the previous record of 200,703 vehicles set in 2006.

Subaru's strength came from its redesigned Legacy and Outback. Legacy sales rose 25 percent for the year; Outback sales climbed 37 percent. The Forester also contributed with a sales increase of 28 percent. 

Puzzling is the fact that Impreza sales were off 5 percent for the year. Less surprising was a 46-percent decline in sales of the quirky Tribeca. 

Tim Colbeck, Subaru's senior vice president of sales, predicts another good year for the brand in 2010. "I believe Subaru is well-positioned to continue its success into 2010. We have the right products, marketing and dealer network providing us with a strong foundation for future growth," he said in a statement.

Volkswagen: Off Only a Tad

Jetta TDI 2009.jpgVolkswagen of America fared far better than the industry in general with a sales decline of only 4.3 percent for the year. The automaker sold 213,454 vehicles in the year.

"2009 proved to be another extremely challenging year for the automotive industry. We are encouraged by the fact that we were able to continue to grow our market share throughout 2009 despite the extremely challenging market conditions," said Mark Barnes, Volkswagen of America's chief operating officer.

Jetta sales totaled 108,427 units for an 11.3 percent increase over 2008. 2009 also marked the year of the diesel for Volkswagen, with 20 percent of its sales -- or 41,278 units -- coming from diesel-powered Jetta, Jetta SportWagen, Golf and Touareg.

New models including the CC, Tiguan and Routan contributed to Volkswagen's performance. However core models including the Passat, saw hefty declines for the year.

Audi: Gaining in Luxury Market

When the final 2009 numbers are calculated, Audi is likely to be one of the gainers, at least in terms of market share.

Audi sold 82,716 vehicles in 2009, compared with 87,760 in 2008. Audi predicted that would boost its market share to a record 8 percent, up nearly a full percentage point from 7.1 percent in 2008.

"Audi clearly showed that it is the luxury brand on the move in 2009," said Johan de Nysschen, Audi of America president.

Audi introduced a number of new models in 2009, including the A5, S5 Cabriolet, S4 and R8 5.2 quattro. It also advanced its diesel business. Audi said it initially expected diesel to account for 18 to 20 percent of its Q7 and A3 lines. Instead, diesel accounted for 43 percent of Q7 sales and 53 percent of A3 sales.

"We will look back at 2009 as a turning point for American understanding of the advantages provided by Audi TDI clean diesel technology, in terms of reduced fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions," de Nysschen said.

In 2010, Audi introduces a new flagship A8 that goes on sale as a 2011 model in November.

BMW: BMW, Mini Down for the Year

Despite a positive December, the BMW Group, including the BMW and Mini brands, had sales fall 20.3 percent in 2009 from 2008 to 241,727 vehicles.

Sales of both the BMW and Mini vans were down for the year. BMW brand sales were down 21.1 percent to 196,502 vehicles. Mini sales fell 16.4 percent to 45,225 vehicles.

"In a 2009, where our segment was down over 40 percent, we're quite happy with Mini's performance as it was the second best year since the launch of the brand in 2002, and market share increased significantly," said Jim McDowell, Mini USA vice president.

"For 2010," he added, "our growth story should continue to be driven by three factors: an improving economy, adding dealerships in key markets of opportunity across the U.S., and building momentum for doubling the number of vehicles in the Mini range."

Mercedes-Benz: Only E-Class Rises

2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class - 225.JPGMercedes-Benz, which got a year-end push by a December that proved to be its best sales month of the year, sold 190,604 vehicles in 2009, putting its full-year decline at 15.3 percent decline.

The redesigned E-Class, launched in June, was the only Mercedes model besides the tiny volume SLR, to see increase in sales. Mercedes sold 43,072 E-Class models, up 11.7 percent for the year. The rest of Mercedes line saw sales declines of 25 percent or significantly more.

The Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the model that the automaker calls it "gateway" to younger and first-time buyers, was the company's volume leader for the year, with sales of 52,427 vehicles, still 27.7 percent lower than 2008. Mercedes' third-best sellers was the M-Class.

Sales of Smart cars slumped by nearly 41 percent to 14,595 for the year.

Jaguar-Land Rover: Low Volume, Low Pain

Under the second year of ownership by India's Tata Motors, Jaguar and Land Rover, always low-volume players, came out better than plenty of larger makers.

Jaguar's sales of 11,995 for the year represented a palatable 19-percent drop compared with 2008, not a bad performance considering the pounding 2009 delivered to many a luxury nameplate.

Sales at the Land Rover unit dropped just 11 percent for all of 2009, to 26,306 units.   

Porsche: Down a Quarter From '08

Hard-hit by the recession, Porsche sales totaled 19,696 vehicles in 2009, down 24 percent form 2008. Sales would have been lower had it not been for the successful launch of the new Panamera.

"From an overall standpoint in 2009, while we were down from the previous year we saw considerable improvement on a year-to-year basis during the second half of the year," said Detlev von Platin, Porsche Cars North America president and CEO. "Our best-selling sports car, the 911, gained market share over its class.

"We are increasingly optimistic that we can continue this momentum in 2010," he added.

Mazda: Mazda 3 Accounts for Half of Sales

Mazda sold 207,767 vehicles in 2009, down 21.3 percent from 2008, with its smallest vehicle, the Mazda 3, accounting for half of its total sales.

Sales of every model in Mazda's line were down by double digits in 2009. The Mazda 3 had the smallest decline at 12.3 percent.

"Going in, we knew 2009 was going to be an extremely difficult year, and it lived up to its early billing all the way to the end," said Jim O'Sullivan, president and CEO, Mazda North American Operations. "We reduced our fleet sales all year long to focus on long-term brand strength, residual values and profitability."

Added O'Sullivan: "With December coming in higher than last year, optimism is strong for a brighter 2010."

-- Contributing Editor Dale Buss, Senior Editor Bill Visnic, Senior Analyst/Editor at Large Michelle Krebs

Analysis provided by's Jessica Caldwell, Ivan Drury, David Greene

Photos by Manufacturers

1 - Chevrolet Malibu

2 - Toyota Camry

3 - Ford F-Series

4 - Dodge Journey

5 - Honda CR-V

6 - Nissan Altima

7 - Hyundai Genesis

8 - Subaru Legacy

9 - Volkswagen Jetta

10 - Mercedes-Benz E-Class

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mcmanus says: 4:39 AM, 01.07.10

So a story of the old, stubborn, confused, and out-of-it (GM, Ford, Chrysler) versus the young and hungry (Hyundai/Kia, Subaru) with the comfortable brands predictably stuck in the middle.

Toyota needs to rediscover sportiness to start catering to more than the baby boomer generation. Honda needs to find its way again by going back to its roots and returning to being an innovative car company. Nissan, Mazda, and the other bit players need to take this economic opportunity to strengthen their dealer netwworks. Subaru, please introduce your European diesels (like the Legacy/Outback that you build in Indiana) to the U.S. market.

I'm past caring, but still curious, what's happening with Chrysler? What are they building/selling now? What is the status of their dealerships? Is Fiat moving ahead on that front at all? Are they still designing new "American" cars? Will they ever sell Fiats in the U.S.? Will the American taxpayer's ever see a dime back from the bale out?


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