The boom in auto sales gave the national economy a huge lift in 2012 and was critical in helping swing the industrial Midwest into Barack Obama’s camp during the 2012 presidential campaign.
But it turns out California — where gasoline prices were among the nation’s highest for much of the past year — was leading the boom in car sales. It was also at the cutting edge of the shift from conventional gasoline power to cleaner, higher mileage battery-based vehicles. Significantly, the Toyota Prius became the state’s best-selling vehicle.
But, as has been the case for a number of decades, foreign-owned brands, especially the Asians, topped the California sales charts, Kia, the increasingly stylish Korean carmaker, was the fastest growing brand, posting a 53% sales gain among California’s traditionally trend-conscious buyers.
The California New Car Dealers Association reported that 2012 new-vehicle registrations in California increased 25.3% over 2011, outpacing the increase in national sales, which climbed 13.4% for all of last year. According to the CNCDA, more than 1.6 million new cars and light trucks were purchased during 2012, the best number since 2007.
“With California’s economy on the rebound, consumers feel confident again about buying a new car, and there has never been a wider selection of models to choose from,” said Darryl Holter, CNCDA Chairman and operator of the eight-rooftop Downtown L.A. Auto Group.
Toyota’s Prius knocked down the Honda Civic after its two-year reign as the best-selling vehicle in California, according to CNCDA figures. The sales data are from the California New Car Dealers Assn. which tracked retail auto registrations. That does not include sales to rental car companies, government and other fleet customers.
Toyota sold 60,688 of the various members of the expanding Prius hybrid “family” last year, more than one quarter of all the models sharing the Prius badge sold by Toyota across the U.S. Overall. 7.4% of all cars sold at retail in California were hybrids – more than double the national average.
California buyers also purchased some 3,000 electric vehicles – again, a significantly higher percentage, based on population, than anywhere else in the country.
Financial incentives such as state rebates for plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles and other perks, such as car pool lane permits, helped increase the California battery-car numbers, noted Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with IHS.
The former sales champion, the Honda Civic, fell to second with sales totaling 57,124 units, while the Toyota Camry was third with sales of 50,250. Honda also grabbed the fourth spot, the Accord ringing up sales of 49,420 units, followed by the Toyota Corolla with total sales of 38,037. The Honda CR-V, Ford F-Series pickup, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata and Toyota Tacoma rounded out California’s list of the 10 best selling vehicles.
Ford’s F-Series pick-up truck, perennially the bestselling nationally, placed seventh in California with sales of 25,434 – and was the only domestic nameplate to land in California’s Top 10. The Chevrolet Silverado truck, the second bestseller nationally last year, didn’t come close with sales of just 17,804, below such disparate vehicles as the Hyundai Elantra.
While California gasoline prices are consistently among the highest in the nation, luxury or near luxury cars such as BMW-3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and E-Class actually outsold subcompacts such as the Nissan Versa, Honda Fit and Fiat 500.
Toyota was far and away the top selling brand in California with a 21.1% market share – exceeding General Motors’ national share by by more than four percentage points. Honda was second with 12.5% of the market. Ford held on to third place in California with 11.3% of the retail market and GM was close behind with 11.2% — compared to its 16.9% national market share.
Next were Nissan and Hyundai, tied for fifth place at 8.3%, and Chrysler followed at 6.5%. Volkswagen nabbed a 5.5% market share during 2012.
Besides Kia, the other fast growing brands in California were Subaru with a 44.7% gain in sales and Volkswagen, which posted a 38% increase. However, Toyota also posted a 39% increase – its Lexus luxury brand gaining 31%. Honda sales climbed 30.7%, and sales of Jeep brand vehicles climbed 26.6% to outpace the overall California market rebound.
California motorists also preferred cars to trucks by a decisive margin last year. Almost 63 percent of the new vehicles purchased in the state were passenger cars, compared to 51% nationally.
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