* Results by six biggest automakers miss expectations
* Late Thanksgiving date, bad weather hit December sales
* Industry sales in 2014 expected to rise as high as 16.5
* U.S. auto sales rise 7.6 pct in 2013 versus prior year
By Bernie Woodall and Ben Klayman
DETROIT, Jan 3 The U.S. auto industry limped to
its best year since the boom times before 2008 as results came
up short in December as a late Thanksgiving holiday robbed sales
from the year's final month.
The tough sledding in December does not suggest a difficult
2014, however, as several executives and analysts expect auto
industry growth to continue outpacing the overall U.S. economy
as it has since the recession.
In addition to the late U.S. Thanksgiving holiday weekend,
December sales were hurt by snow and ice storms that kept
consumers away from dealerships, automakers and analysts said.
"Sales were pulled into November, but also people were more
impacted by the compressed shopping season, most of which was in
December," Kelley Blue Book senior analyst Karl Brauer said.
"People were doing more Christmas shopping than car shopping."
He added that industry-watchers should not be overly
concerned by a December that was affected by the timing of a
holiday in the previous month. Last month included Jan. 2 due to
a quirk in the calendar that affected how automakers typically
report monthly sales.
Monthly auto sales are seen as an early indicator of
U.S. industry sales in 2013 finished at 15.6 million
vehicles, up 7.6 percent from 2012, while December results
inched up 0.3 percent. The annualized sales rate in the final
month was 15.4 million vehicles, well below the 16 million
expected by economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters.
The timing of Thanksgiving weekend had a greater impact on
December sales than in recent years, causing automakers to miss
expectations, said Mustafa Mohatarem, General Motors Co's
The late December holiday season is generally one of the
heaviest sales periods at U.S. auto dealerships. GM, Ford Motor
Co and Volkswagen AG all said the weather was
less of a negative factor than the timing of the Thanksgiving
December sales were counted through Thursday, when much of
the U.S. Midwest was buried in snow. The storm is now over the
U.S. Northeast, but January sales will have time
to recover from the current storm as the bulk of sales typically
occurs later in the month, said Kurt McNeil, GM vice president
of U.S. sales operations.
GM shares ended 3.4 percent lower at $39.57 while Ford
shares rose 0.5 percent to close at $15.51 on the New York Stock
Exchange on Friday.
BEST YEAR SINCE 2007
For all of 2013, industry sales were 50 percent higher than
2009 when they slumped to 10.4 million vehicles during the
height of the recession. It was the best full-year performance
since 2007, when sales hit 16.1 million vehicles.
While some economists and analysts expect 2014 sales to rise
to between 16 million and 16.5 million vehicles, there is
growing concern that competition will intensify, leading to
higher incentives and lower profit for companies.
Research firm TrueCar.com said vehicle transaction prices
fell by an average of $200 per vehicle in December, or 0.6
percent, over last year, while incentives were up $103 per
vehicle, or 4 percent.
The gradually improving economy, including stronger job and
housing markets, will drive future growth, as opposed to
consumers' need to replace aging vehicles, which the industry
has described as pent-up demand, said Bill Fay, U.S. head of the
Toyota brand. He also cited auto loan interest rates, near
historic lows, as a positive.
Ford boasted the biggest gain in U.S. market share for the
year, adding four-tenths of a point to finish at 15.9 percent.
Subaru also showed the same rate of increase to 2.7
Chrysler increased its share by two-tenths of a point to
11.3 percent, while GM was flat at 17.9 percent. The biggest
losers were Kia and its parent Hyundai Motor Co,
which lost four-tenths and three-tenths of a point,
respectively, to 3.4 percent and 4.6 percent.
GM's December sales fell 6 percent, to 230,157 new vehicles,
below analysts' expectations of a slight sales gain.
Sales of GM's Chevrolet Silverado full-size pickup truck
fell 16 percent in the month as analysts said the automaker did
not load incentives onto the redesigned vehicle to match what
rival Ford was doing with its market-leading but older F-Series.
Ford's sales rose 2 percent to 218,058 vehicles, missing
expectations. Its F-Series pickup truck, which finished as the
best-selling vehicle in the U.S. market for the 32nd straight
year, had an 8 percent sales gain.
Toyota's Camry finished as the top-selling passenger car for
the 12th consecutive year.
GM introduced new versions of its Chevrolet Silverado and
GMC Sierra pickup trucks last year while Ford will launch a
redesign of its trucks later this year.
Toyota Motor Corp's U.S. December sales fell 1.7
percent to 190,843 vehicles, versus expectations of a slight
Chrysler reported a 6 percent gain last month in its U.S.
auto sales to 161,007 vehicles. That was the automaker's best
December since 2007, but still narrowly missed analyst
expectations. Ram pickup truck sales rose 17 percent.
Jeep sales rose 34 percent in the month, led by the new
Cherokee, which sold four times as well in December as the
vehicle it replaced, the Jeep Liberty, did a year earlier.
Honda Motor Co sales rose 2 percent to 135,255
vehicles, which also missed analysts' expectations.
Nissan Motor Co sales rose 10.5 percent in
December, allowing the Japanese automaker to finish with its
best year for U.S. sales ever. Hyundai and Kia saw their
combined sales also miss analysts' expectations.
Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz won bragging rights as
the top-selling luxury brand, edging BMW by a count of
312,534 vehicles to 309,280 vehicles.
Chrysler is majority-owned by Italy's Fiat SpA.
Earlier this week, the two companies announced that Fiat would
buy the remainder of Chrysler that is currently owned by a
United Auto Workers healthcare trust, for $4.35 billion. That
deal is expected to close by Jan. 20.