Major automakers closed out 2013 with mixed results for December US sales Friday, as the booming auto industry racked up its best annual performance in years.
"The auto industry was a consistent bright spot in the economic recovery throughout 2013," said Bill Fay, general manager of the Toyota division. "We expect the economy will continue to gain strength in 2014, with car sales rising to pre-recession levels."
Total industry sales rose 7.6 percent to 15.6 million vehicles in 2013, according to Autodata.
The last time annual US auto sales topped 15 million vehicles was in 2007.
They slowly recovered to 14.8 million in 2012 after crashing to a low of 10.6 million in 2009 as a result of the financial crisis, which pushed the industry into a deep downturn.
In the 14 years prior to the 2008 crash, annual US auto sales had ranged from 15 to 17 million vehicles.
"2013 was the year that GM and the auto industry put the last traces of the recession in the rearview mirror," said General Motors US sales chief Kurt McNeil.
"Now we can devote our full attention to the things that matter most to customers: compelling design, world-class quality and delivering the best ownership experience in the business."
December sales were weaker than expected as a result of brutal winter storms and Thanksgiving discounts which had drawn shoppers to showrooms in November, McNeil said in a conference call.
GM reported a seven percent increase in 2013 US sales to 2.8 million vehicles despite a six percent drop in December sales to 230,157.
Ford posted its best annual performance since 2006 as US sales jumped 11 percent to 2.5 million vehicles in 2013. December sales rose a more modest two percent from the same period a year ago to come in at 218,058.
"December was a strong close to an even better year for Ford," sales chief John Felice said. "We saw strong growth across the entire Ford lineup and made significant gains in the import-dominated coastal markets."
Toyota posted a seven percent gain in 2013 as US sales rose to 2.2 million vehicles -- despite a two percent drop in December sales to 190,843.
Chrysler reported its 45th consecutive month of gains as December US sales rose six percent to 161,007. Its 2013 sales were up nine percent at 1.8 million.
Honda managed to top the record it set last December as US sales grew two percent to 135,255 vehicles. Its 2013 sales rose seven percent to 1.5 million, the Japanese automaker's second highest annual tally.
"Breaking our December sales record is a great way to finish a near-record year," said American Honda sales chief John Mendel.
"In a hotly competitive market, where every manufacturer brought their best products, our core models demonstrated significant growth without having to resort to fleet sales to drive volume as some of our competitors do."
Nissan posted its best annual US sales ever with a nine percent increase to 1.2 million vehicles. Its December sales were up 11 percent from the previous year at 109,758.
Hyundai's sales were up five percent for the year at 720,783 after gaining six percent in December to 63,005 while Kia sales rose three percent to 535,179 in 2013 after falling 14 percent in December to 33,631.
Volkswagen bucked the upward trend by posting a seven percent drop in annual US sales to 407,704 vehicles in 2013, while December sales fell 23 percent to 34,015.
But the German automaker celebrated the fact that -- for the first time in 40 years -- it managed to sell more than 400,000 vehicles in back-to-back years and nonetheless posted its second best US December performance since 1972.
"Volkswagen is now operating at a new plateau," Mark McNabb, chief operating officer of Volkswagen of America, said in a statement.
"We are well positioned for our next phase of growth to come over the next few years."