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Full-Size Truck, SUV Sales Dominate December

Americans’ appetite for trucks of all kinds rebounded strongly in December, boosting pickups, vans and SUVs to a combined 54.8% of new vehicle sales.

USA Today reported that the truck trend seems to defy logic: Trucks use a lot of fuel, and gasoline is stubbornly above $3 a gallon.

Trucks, mainly pickups, are “the workhorse of contractors and tradesmen,” and their business appears to be picking up, says Brian Irwin, head of the auto practice at consultant A.T. Kearney.

Even if it isn’t, he notes, recession-hammered businesses and tradesmen put off buying new vehicles so long that “eventually they say, ‘I need to replace that white pickup.’ ”

Two automakers illustrate the point.

Ford Motor, casting itself as a fuel-economy champ emphasizing small cars, nevertheless sold three trucks in December for every car. For all of 2011, the ratio was two trucks for every car. Overall, Ford truck sales were up and car sales were down despite new Fiesta and Focus fuel-sipping small cars.

Honda, likewise known for fuel-efficient small cars, reported that its Fit subcompact was the only car with improved sales in December and that its Insight hybrid hatchback almost disappeared from the December tallies, attracting just 690 buyers, a drop of 57.8%.

At the same time, sales of Honda’s Pilot SUV and Odyssey family van both were strong.

The strength of truck sales mainly was due to pickups and incentives that were more generous than usual. In fact, General Motors sold so many full-size Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierras that its pickup inventory — bloated as recently as November — fell below the 200,000 that GM wanted on hand at year’s end.

Chevy Silverado remained the No. 2 seller in the U.S. last year, behind the Ford F-150.

Other truck stars:

• Ford’s new-design Explorer SUV sales were up 37.4% in December and 123.6% for all of 2011.

• Infiniti’s full-size QX, a $60,000 luxury SUV, enjoyed its best sales month in seven years in December.

• Chrysler Group’s Jeep brand seems unstoppable. Sales were up 41% in December as updates and new models continue to attract buyers.


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