Ford says its U.S. sales for December of 2010 were up 6.7 percent from the same month in 2009, better than experts had predicted. Ford sold 190,976 units in December of last year versus 179,017 in December of 2009.
The automaker also reported a yearly sales increase for 2010 of 19.4 percent from the previous year, selling 1,935,462 units last year versus 1,620,888 in 2009.
The Ford F-150 pickup was the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. last year. The company also saw strong sales of its Fusion midsize sedan and Edge, which has the roominess of an SUV but handles like a car. Sales of Ford's luxury Lincoln brand rose only 4 percent for the year.
Without the Volvo brand, which Ford sold last fall, Ford's sales climbed 19 percent for the year
AndGeneral Motorssays its U.S. sales for December of 2010 were up 16 percent for its core brands, over the same time in 2009. This was much better than analysts had expected.
The automaker reported 223,932 total sales in December for the company's four core brands—Cadillac, Buick, Chevrolet and GMC. GM's four brands sold 118,435 more vehicles this year than the company did with eight brands in 2009.
GM said it sold 2,202,927 of its core brand vehicles in all of 2010 versus 1,815,806 in 2009. That's an increase of 21%.
GM posted an overall increase of 7.5 percent in U.S. auto sales in December, capping a year of gradual recovery for the industry overall that is expected to continue in the new year.
The company's December sales rose because of big sellers like the Chevrolet Equinox, a smaller SUV that seats five people. And the automaker is predicting total sales of 13 million to 13.5 million units for 2011.
A year after its 2009 bankruptcy, and less than two months after its largest-ever IPO, GM remains the top-selling automaker in the United States.
Meanwhile, Chrysler says its sales for December of 2010 were up 16.4 percent from the same time in 2009. The carmaker sold 100,702 vehicles in December vesus 86,523 in the same month of 2009. Chrysler also reported a sales increase of 17 percent for all of 2010. The automaker sold 1,085,211 vehicles in 2010 versus 931,402 in 2009.
Much of the sales increase for Chrysler early in the year came from low-profit sales to rental companies. The year's final months were marked by strong sales of the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
As expected, Toyota U.S. sales were down in December. The Japanese automaker posted a delince of 5.5 percent from the same time in 2009. Its sales have been hurt by safety recalls.
But another Japanese automaker Nissan , says its sales rose 28 percent in December from a year ago.
Hyundai sales gained 33 percent in December from the same time in 2009. Its affiliate Kia Motors posted a 45 percent gain, continuing a trend that has seen the Korean brands take share from rivals in a recovering U.S. market.
Automakers Snap Sales Losing Streak
The auto industry snapped a four-year streak of declining annual sales in 2010 and growth in 2011 beyond expectations could force automakers to deal with capacity constraints, a luxury of a problem given recent years.
GM already has been adding capacity for strong-selling SUVs including the Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain.
Growth is expected to stay strong in developing auto markets over the next several years including China and India. Car sales in India were reported strong in December with Fitch expecting sales growth of up to 15 percent in 2011 driven mainly by a growing middle class and more financing opportunities.
The December U.S. auto sales results, and outlooks for 2011 come as manufacturers reported Tuesday that new orders unexpectedly rose in November and the Institute for Supply Management said its national factory activity index rose to a seven-month high in December.
Fifteen economists surveyed by Reuters forecast December auto sales of about 12.3 million on the annualized and seasonally adjusted basis tracked by the industry.
Car and truck buying finally is starting to pick up after two tough years. Sales in 2008 totaled 13.2 million, down from 16.1 million in 2007, the final year before the recession took hold. In 2009, sales notched their worst performance since 1982 at 10.4 million.
"The consumer is coming back to the showrooms, particularly in the more affluent and higher quality credit segments," Barclays Capital analyst Brian Johnson said, referring to the final three months of last year.
Sales, when measured at an annual rate and adjusted for seasonal changes, sputtered all year before hitting an annual rate of 12.3 million in October and November. Toprak expects an annual rate above 12 million for December as well.
Car companies loosened up on incentives such as rebates, low-interest loans and lease deals. Truecar said incentives rose to an average of $2,721 in December, up 7 percent from the same month of 2009.
Reuters and AP contributed to this story.