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GM cars: Good December sales can't make up for poor 2010

GM cars sold better in December than November – up 8.5 percent – but all of the Big Three had a rough year. 2010 was the second-worst year for domestic car sales since 1982.

By Greg GardnerAssociated Press / January 5, 2011

General Motors officials stand near an assembly plant for GM cars and trucks in Flint, Mich., in this August 2010 file photo. Like the rest of the Big Three, GM posted better sales in December than November, but they weren't big enough to rescue the second-worst sales year in three decades.

John Ehlke / The Flint Journal / AP / File

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DETROIT

Chrysler, Ford and General Motors reported solid December sales gains, capitalizing on consumers' migration back to pickup trucks, SUVs and crossovers — despite gas prices that spiked as much as 40 cents a gallon.

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For the year, U.S. auto sales totaled 11.6 million vehicles, an 11.1 percent gain from 2009's 30-year low of 10.4 million.

Despite the improvement, 2010 was still the second-weakest year since 1982.

In all, the Detroit Three expanded their collective market share to 45.1 percent in 2010 from 44.2 percent in 2009 — thanks to a strong close. December sales were up 16.4 percent for Chrysler, 8.5 percent for General Motors and 6.8 percent for Ford.

Some others did even better, though. Sales were up 32.6 percent at Hyundai, 27.7 percent at Nissan and 21 percent at Honda. Toyota was the only major automaker to report lower December sales, with a decline of 5.5 percent.

Forecasts for 2011 sales range from 12.5 million to 13.5 million, but optimism remains cautious.

"We expect the depressed housing market and slow employment growth to be somewhat of a drag ," said Don Johnson, GM vice president of U.S. sales operations.

December may have been the month GM launched the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan sold its first battery-powered Leaf, but GM reported selling only 326 Volts, and Nissan found 19 buyers for the Leaf. By contrast, sales of many pickups and SUVs soared. For the year, truck sales were up 17.9 percent, while passenger cars gained a more modest 5 percent.

Even as pump prices reached as high as $3.40 in some areas, Dodge Ram sales nearly doubled to 23,241 in December. Sales of the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee more than tripled. Chevrolet Silverado sales jumped 27.7 percent, while Ford's F-Series sales rose 13.9 percent from a year earlier. Even Toyota Tundra sales climbed 12.9 percent.

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