Every month is important in the auto industry, but for most automakers, December holds special significance; as the last month of the year, we get annual sales numbers in addition to monthly figures, and automakers, consumers, and analysts are all able to see how good or bad the year actually was. And if January represents the beginning of a new year, December is also the close, the cap, the end of a chapter in automaker history. So you don’t have to spend hours in a muddle of sales reports, we bring you the winners and losers from December.
No automaker had a better December than BMW, and the German luxury brand’s 3 Series continued to lead the way. The gateway to BMW proved the newest 3 Series was a resounding success. The 3 Series’ larger sibling–the BMW 5 Series–had a stellar year as well, and sold twice as many units as the previous December. Not to be outshone, the BMW X3 and X5 crossovers held their own, accounting for more than 10,000 new purchases in December. Ludwig Willisch, president and CEO of BMW North America, said “the post-recession sales momentum that started in 2010 reached an unprecedented level in December, making us strongly confident and optimistic as we enter 2013.”
Suzuki actually saw an uptick in sales in December from previous months, after the automaker applied for bankruptcy and said it will exit its U.S. auto business. But Suzki’s December sales–despite the sudden surge–were still short of last December’s numbers. Suzuki’s poor sales could be blamed on a poor dealership network. Then again, the poor dealership network likely accounts for Suzuki’s poor sales; considering Suzuki didn’t even sell 2,000 models last month, it may be a good thing it’s choosing to focus on sales in other markets, and on its watercraft and motorcycle divisions.
To say December was kind to German automakers would be a drastic understatement; in Volkswagen’s case, it was the best December since 1970, a time when Richard Nixon was just starting his first term in the White House. The Volkswagen Passat midsize sedan was the automaker’s shining star in December, and was its second-most popular vehicle on the year, even outshining the perennial Vee-Dub best-seller, the Jetta. Jonathan Browning, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, said “the Volkswagen brand delivered another important step in our long-term growth plan. 2012 marked the third consecutive year of significant double-digit growth rates and we more than doubled our volume of 2009.” The newly launched Jetta Turbo Hybrid and Volkswagen Beetle Convertible will help Volkswagen start off the new year.
The 2013 Lincoln MKZ is new and looks good, but perhaps most importantly represents a successful shift, the start of a necessary deviation from the Ford brand. Lincoln sold fewer vehicles this December than last, and was down overall on the year. Lincoln says it’s looking to produce four new vehicles in the next few years, and if the luxury automaker is to be seen as relevant, they’ll need to be at least as good as the MKZ, and show differentiation from the Ford brand.
Hyundai and Korean sibling Kia recently admitted to inflating fuel economy numbers on some models. The twosome had to adjust overall fleet mpg from 27 mpg combined, to 26 mpg. But that news didn’t seem to matter much to Hyundai buyers, who made this December Hyundai’s best ever. Led by surging sales of the Elantra and Sonata, the Korean automaker sold nearly 60,000 vehicles this past month. The twosome also made the top ten best-selling cars in America list, moving more than 200,000 of each model in 2012. “We closed 2012 with strong demand in both volume and premium segments, and all-time sales records for December and the full year,” said John Krafcik, Hyundai’s North American CEO and president. Hyundai will add a third shift at production plants in 2013 to help meet demand on its most popular vehicles.