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Automakers hopeful for 2010

Published:Sunday | January 17, 2010 | 12:00 AM


Automakers in the United States (US) ended their worst year in almost three decades with hints of a recovery in December.

Many, especially those selling small or inexpensive vehicles, reported improvements last month and expressed hope for a mildly better 2010.

It was a positive finish to one of the toughest years on record for the industry, with US sales of cars and light trucks down 21 per cent to US$10.4 million as drivers blew past showrooms due to a shaky economy.

For the year, General Motors Co and Chrysler Group LLC were the big losers. Both took government aid and spent time in bankruptcy court early in the year when sales fell to near-record lows as credit froze, unemployment rose and consumer confidence plunged.

Big winners were Hyundai Motor Co and its low-cost Kia brand, as well as Subaru, which specialises in all-wheel-drive small cars and sport utility vehicles. Ford Motor Co, Honda, Toyota and Nissan all reported drops for the year but big gains last month.

"It's not a disaster anymore," said Aaron Bragman, an industry analyst for the consulting firm IHS Global Insight in Troy, Michigan.

Ford, the only US-based automaker to avoid bankruptcy protection, fared better than its two Detroit rivals, with overall sales down 15 per cent last year compared with 36 per cent fewer for Chrysler and 30 per cent for GM.

In fact, Chrysler sold just 931,000 cars and trucks in 2009, its worst performance since 1962 as it struggled with a lack of new products and a reputation for poor quality. It had a better December, however, down only 4 per cent from the same month last year.