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Phil LeBeau: Autos

1. Auto sales continue to notch steady gains.

Retail new vehicle sales are ending 2011 at their highest rate in three years. That momentum will carry through next year with the sales pace moving into the upper 13 million range. Pent-up demand will drive the purchase of new models.

2010 Ford Taurus
Source: Ford
2010 Ford Taurus

2. Ford shares kick into overdrive.

The combination of a dividend early in the year, steady earnings growth all four quarters and the expected return of an investment grade credit rating by the end of 2012 will kick start Ford Motor shares. Like the rest of the auto sector, it muddled through 2011 despite the company putting up solid numbers. That won't happen next year.

3. The Hyundai/Kia combo keeps rolling.

The Korean auto maker and its sister company Kia will stay red hot in 2012 thanks to a line-up of fuel-efficient cars that many Americans are just waking up to. Look for Hyundai to finally announce it will build another plant in the U.S. because it's running at capacity right now and it simply has to grow. The location may not be announced right away, but it will ultimately be in the south.

4. Jeep sales climbs higher.

After seeing Jeep sales surge more than 40 percent in 2011, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is pushing for more next year. There's another shift coming on line at the Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio, and the brand is just starting to finally start running. Higher gasoline prices will be a slight drag, but not enough to stop Jeep.

5. Tesla's time has come.

The upscale electric car company has a huge year coming up with the Model S rolling out mid-year. Could Tesla stumble? Sure. But the more you listen to what the company is saying about Model S orders and the upbeat reports from even the most skeptical analysts on Wall Street, you get a sense Tesla's time to turn heads will be here by the end of next year.

2011 Scorecard





My grade: B

Looking back on my 2010 predictions, I was mostly right.

I was right about Chrysler (having a very big year) and Ford should, depending on its fourth quarter, have it best annual earnings ever.

The electric car race was relatively quiet, but generated more noise than one would expect from these silent cars.

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