DETROIT – U.S. auto sales sputtered back to life in 2010, and car companies expect them to keep climbing this year as the economy recovers and buyers grow more confident.
With sales of around 11.5 million new cars and trucks, 2010 was still the second-worst year in almost three decades, after 2009. And car companies are starting to wonder if they will ever reach the heights they saw in the early 2000s, when credit was cheap, incentives were rampant, and sales topped 17 million.
Still, 2010 was a good year for Detroit’s car companies. Ford Motor Co. sales rose 15 percent, and it grabbed market share from rivals for the second year in a row. General Motors Co.’s sales rose 6.3 percent while Chrysler climbed 17 percent, an impressive rebound from 2009, when the two companies restructured in bankruptcy court.
Other winners included South Korea’s Hyundai, which notched record sales.
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Toyota Motor Corp. continued to struggle. Its sales were flat in 2010, a casualty of the company’s tarnished safety record.
Toyota has recalled more than 10 million vehicles since late 2009 for various issues, including sticky gas pedals.
GM expects sales in the 13-million range in 2011, which would be back up to the level the U.S. saw in 2008. Eventually, sales will creep back up to 15 or 16 million, but not much higher, said Don Johnson, vice president of GM U.S. sales.
Car companies have downsized and they’re producing fewer vehicles, so they don’t have to resort to costly incentives in order to clear out inventory. Big incentives – like the employee pricing for everyone program in the summer of 2005 – were one reason buyers flocked to dealerships.