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Smarter automakers, confident consumers driving car sales back up (+video)

Despite being near collapse four years ago, the US automotive industry is seeing annual sales that are climbing steadily back up toward pre-recession levels.

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Of the three US automakers, the Chrysler Group saw the greatest boost in year-to-year sales gains, with sales soaring 21 percent in 2012, compared with Ford Motor Co. and General Motors, which enjoyed 4.7 percent and 3.7 percent sales gains, respectively.

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Chrysler said Wednesday its year-end sales of 1.7 million vehicles represented its best year since 2007. In a statement, the company reported that its continued sales records are the result of sales increases in its Jeep brand, which increased 13 percent last year over the year before, and Dodge, which had the largest sales volume of any Chrysler Group brand.

Ford sold 2.2 million units and GM 2.6 million in 2012. In a teleconference with reporters Thursday, Ford US Sales Analyst Erich Merkle said the company was enjoying a 29 percent sales boost from its small car segment, such as the Focus, Fiesta, and C-Max, which is higher than the industry average. While the company’s truck division remains strong – the company’s F-Series of pickup trucks remain the best-selling brand in its segment – Focus sales increased 40 percent and are responsible for a third of sales growth, more than any other Ford model.

Japanese automakers Honda, Nissan, and Toyota also demonstrated they were in full recovery from the 2011 tsunami and earthquake that depleted inventories and subsequently hurt sales. Toyota unit sales increased 27 percent, while Honda trailed at 24 percent and Nissan at 10 percent.

Ms. Caldwell noted that Toyota represented the greatest percentage increase in year-to-year unit sales for any automaker and predicted that Prius, its best-selling hybrid brand, “should only get more popular as the hybrid and electric market steadily gains more steam.”

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