Cruze wraps up big year

Combined sales of General Motors’ mini, small and compact cars increased by 10 percent last year, bolstered in part by the best-ever sales of the Lordstown-built Chevy Cruze, the Detroit automaker announced Friday in its year-end sales report.

In a year-end recap, GM’s Kurt McNeil, vice president of U.S. Sales operations, said, “Small truly was big in 2013.” Cruze sales increased by 4 percent to 248,224, its best year ever, up from 237,758 sold in 2012.

Companywide, GM reported a 7.3 percent increase in new car sales for the 12-month period when compared to 2012.

Despite year-over-year success, the car company was among others to show a December drop in the brisk sales pace from earlier this year. December sales of the Cruze also dipped 14.5 percent for the month to 18,162 from 21,230 in December 2012.

Companywide, GM reported December sales that were down about 6 percent from December 2012.

McNeil attributed the dip in December sales to poor weather and “pay back” from strong black Friday auto sales in November.

“When you look at retail and the whole fourth quarter, small cars continue to be very strong for us,” said Don Johnson, GM’s U.S. Vice President for Chevrolet sales and service.

Despite December’s slowdown industrywide, automakers remained on target to finish 2013 with the best numbers in six years.

Other than GM, Toyota, Ford and Volkswagen also each posted disappointing numbers. Nissan posted an 11 percent gain for December and Chrysler managed a 6 percent increase. Still, most major automakers reported at least a 7 percent increase for 2013, and analysts expect full-year sales to be up around 8 percent to 15.6 million when all the numbers are in. That would be the highest sales figure since 16.1 million in 2007.

“The auto industry was a consistent bright spot in the economic recovery throughout 2013,” Bill Fay, Toyota division group vice president, said Friday in a statement. “We expect the economy will continue to gain strength in 2014, with car sales rising to pre-recession levels.”

But automakers may need to do more to lure shoppers into showrooms. Analysts say discounts rose in December, and there were signs that automakers were beginning to lower prices to match competitors. That could foreshadow better deals in the new year, especially on pickup trucks and midsize cars.

Sales of GM’s top-selling model, the Chevrolet Silverado pickup, fell 16 percent. Toyota sales were down 1.7 percent from a year ago, while Ford sales were up only 1.8 percent for the month. Volkswagen, which has struggled all year, saw sales fall 23 percent.

John Felice, Ford’s U.S. sales chief, said he wasn’t concerned about softer sales in December. November sales were better than expected because of strong sales on Black Friday weekend, he said, so that took some steam out of sales in the beginning of December. About half of Ford’s December sales came in the final week of the month, he said.

December’s sales pace was still tracking at an annualized pace of more than 16 million vehicles, a healthy rate for the industry, he said.

GM’s pickup truck sales apparently fell victim to heavy discounts that Ford offered on its F-Series, which posted an 8 percent gain in December. Chrysler’s Ram pickup also posted a large gain at 11 percent.

For the full year, though, Ford led all major automakers with an 11 percent gain to almost 2.5 million vehicles. Chrysler sales were up 9 percent to 1.8 million cars and trucks, and Nissan also posted a 9 percent gain to nearly 1.25 million vehicles. GM sales rose 7 percent to 2.8 million. Toyota sales also were up 7 percent to just over 2.2 million cars and trucks. But the VW brand struggled, with sales falling 7 percent to nearly 408,000.

Tribune Chronicle Business Editor Brenda J. Linert and AP Auto Writer Dee-Ann Durbin contributed to this story.