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Car sales clinch third year of double-digit growth

December nudged 2012 U.S. car sales past 14.3 million vehicles. Already armed with 11 months of sales reports, that’s what industry analysts expected.

Nonetheless, it’s a remarkable number.

How many of those same analysts would have predicted in 2009, the year Washington bailed out General Motors GM -0.40% and Chrysler, that sales of cars and pickup-trucks in the United States would rack up three straight years of gains of 10% or more? Yet that’s what they’ve done.

The last time the industry had a run like this was in the early 1970s, when Detroit’s giant V-8 engines ruled the road and a dollar bought three gallons of gas.

There are several reasons car sales did so well last year: pent-up demand, easier credit, fewer foreclosures, more jobs.

But 2012 also brought us a bruising presidential campaign and endless hand-wringing as Washington raced toward the fiscal cliff. Doomsayers, and there were many, even enlisted the Mayan calendar to convince us the end was nigh. None of this makes selling cars easier.

And yet, in the face of so much gloom, people bought cars — lots of them — often from companies not long ago given up for dead.

If, three years ago, if anyone correctly picked the names in this year’s winner’s circle, they’d probably have been nominated for a sobriety test.

Among homegrown brands, Chrysler once again topped the list, with December sales up 10% and full-year sales up 21%. Read the December sales numbers.

It was Chrysler’s best year since 2007. The same can be said of Ford Motor Co. F +0.41% and General Motors Co. GM -0.40% .

In the foreign-car category, Volkswagen XE:VOW -0.06% staged the mother of all comebacks. Its U.S. sales jumped 35% last month, marking its best December here since 1970. For the year, VW sales also jumped 35%.

These kinds of gains embolden even the most skeptical analysts, so it’s hardly surprising they’re predicting 2013 will be even better, with sales topping 15 million cars and light trucks.

They might be right. After several lean years, there’s a veritable flood (at least 40 at last count) of new models scheduled for rollout over the next 12 months. And clearly the public likes what it’s seen so far in the 2013 lineups.

That doesn’t mean the auto industry is suddenly immune to volatile energy prices, new financial crises or more budget shenanigans in Washington. But the picture, right this instant, shows an industry shining brighter than it has in decades, and one that economists once again look to as an engine of growth in an economy that definitely could use a little more horsepower to boost its recovery.

via Jim Jelter on MarketWatch.



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