Strong sales in December capped off a great year for U.S. carmakers -- especially Chrysler.
For their biggest Japanese rivals, a year of natural disasters and other struggles ended on a sour note, with U.S. sales falling and the outlook for next year just as challenging.
Chrysler Group, in the midst of a comeback after its 2009 trip through bankruptcy court, said yesterday sales surged 26 percent for all of 2011.
Chrysler catapulted itself ahead of Honda Motor Co. as the fourth-largest automaker by sales in the United States.
Analysts say U.S. car sales rose for the second year in a row as buyers' confidence in the economy picked up, their aging vehicles wore down and their ability to take out cheap loans improved.
U.S. auto sales rose 10 percent to 12.8 million in 2011. That's up 22 percent from 2009, when the U.S. auto industry and the financial system were in peril.
November and December were the strongest months of the year for U.S. auto sales, and analysts expect the momentum to continue into 2012.
Nissan Motor Co., which recovered more quickly than its rivals from the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan, was the only major Japanese automaker to sell more cars in the United States in 2011. Its sales rose 15 percent for the year.
For Honda and Toyota, 2011 was disappointing. They couldn't get enough cars and trucks to U.S. dealers because of Japan's disasters and flooding in Thailand.