Ford's 2010 Fusion: hybrid version is a big hit. (Ford photo)
Is the American auto industry recovering? You could get that impression from the sales results for December and the year issued today and yesterday.
But Detroit is hardly out of the woods. Overall, 2009 represented the worst auto sales environment in the U.S. in more than 25 years. And Chrysler is still a basket case. "Its performance was the worst among major automakers," the New York Times opined. Its sales for the year went below a million, which hadn't happened since 1962. Sales were down four percent in December (still falling) and 36% for the year. It will be a miracle if Fiat, which plans to bring in some slick new cars, including the popular-in-Europe 500, can put Walter Chrysler's venerable institution back on its feet. Or its wheels.
But there is talk of recovery in the air. According to AutoTrader.com President Chip Perry, "December 2009 may be remembered as the month where interest in new cars returned, if activity on our site is any indication. Many consumers are feeling more confident about their jobs and the economy going into the New Year, and those factors, coupled with lots of exciting new models in showrooms, should drive an increasing amount of foot traffic to new car dealers throughout 2010."
That's a bit smiley-faced for me. Ford has strong products, but GM and Chrysler are still struggling uphill to get great vehicles in the showrooms. Even with a financial recovery, the automakers have a lot of work to do to even approach their former glory. A good year was 16 million cars, and 2009 will be lucky if it squeaks out 11 million.
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