2011 Year in Review

Jumpstart Automotive Media, a division of Hearst Magazines, takes a detailed look at 2011 automotive shopper behavior and search trends across their network of automotive websites, as well as how the entire U.S. market auto industry fared in 2011 versus the past few years.

Despite a number of catastrophic setbacks that halted production and caused supply shortages for several high-volume brands throughout the year, the industry has succeeded in closing out 2011 with a 10% gain in sales volume as compared to 2010. As of December, U.S. light vehicle sales reached 12.7 million units, pacing at a SAAR of 12.72 from January to December, and meeting industry estimates for 12.5–12.8 million units by year-end.

In 2011, the automotive industry was shaken with destruction caused by the natural disasters that devastated Asia. The earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March set manufacturers back on vehicle supply for a minimum of three months. Toyota and Honda were hit especially hard, with the disasters affecting parts supply and production facilities. Additionally, Toyota faced vehicle recalls that, when coupled with the disasters, resulted in losing their position as the world’s largest auto maker and global sales dropped 6%. Honda also struggled with the effects of Thailand’s worst flooding in over 50 years, which halted production and destroyed a factory containing 1,000 completed vehicles. Dealers are not expected to be fully restocked until March 2012. Also in 2011, Honda’s top-selling vehicle in the U.S., the Civic, was under great scrutiny for the redesign of the compact version. Consequently, a vehicle that has been among the top five for years has now fallen to the bottom of the top ten cars in sales volume in the U.S.

Although natural disasters hurt many of the top manufacturers in 2011, others gained strength and emerged as stronger competitors to high-volume brands. Hyundai has been on the rise since 2008 and continued to show strong gains in sales volume and shopper interest throughout the course of 2011. As of December, Hyundai reported two vehicles in the top ten for car sales volume in the U.S., with Sonata ranking seventh with almost 226,000 units sold, and Elantra ranking tenth with over 186,000 units sold in the calendar. Two years ago, neither of these vehicles fell in the top ten in light vehicle car sales in the U.S.

Similarly, Ford has been working its way towards the top-selling brand in the U.S. since surpassing Chevrolet in 2008 and Toyota in 2010. At year-end, Ford represents almost 16% share of light vehicle sales in the U.S., beating out Chevrolet by two percentage points and leaping four and a half points ahead of Toyota. Ford’s Fusion is ranked as the third top-selling car in the U.S., while the F-Series truck and Escape SUV are the first and third-selling, respectively, in the light-truck/SUV category.

The economic outlook for 2012 could lead to another interesting year in the auto industry. Jumpstart expects to see further growth in vehicle sales to an estimated 13.8 million units, depending on various economic factors. Employment rates and consumer confidence could both potentially have an impact new-vehicle sales, and although there are signs of recovery from the 2008–09 recession, the rate of recovery in the U.S. is expected to slow down. December unemployment rates dropped to 8.5%, nearly one whole percentage point from year-ago levels of 9.4%. The entire labor force however, was also down by nearly 300,000 as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. These factors combined with the volatility in crude oil and gas prices could cause consumers to hold onto their vehicles longer, consider used over new, or look to alternative fuels/technology when shopping for their next vehicle. Since the near drop-out of the U.S. auto industry in late 2008 and 2009, many studies have pointed to consumers holding onto their vehicles longer, which begs the question of whether pent-up demand will cause a greater increase in new vehicle sales in 2012.

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