Big 3 see double-digit sales growth for 2011

Auto sales remained strong in December as Detroit's Big Three collectively reported a 12 percent sales increase amid growing confidence about the economy.

Most automakers reported sales increases for 2011 and in December. But two of the seven largest automakers — Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. — reported overall sales declines in 2011 of 7 percent in the United States amid fallout from the March earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan and flooding in Thailand.

Ford Motor Co. said its Ford brand sales were up 17 percent in 2011. Overall, the automaker's total U.S. sales added up to more than 2.1 million vehicles in 2011, a year-over-year gain of 11 percent. In December, Ford's sales were up 10 percent.

Chrysler Group LLC sold 26 percent more cars and trucks last year than it did in 2010, the largest gain of any major automaker, the company said.

Detroit-based GM said its sales were up 14 percent for 2011, but up just 5 percent in December.

U.S. automakers were buoyed by having higher inventories than their rivals, said Paul Taylor, chief economist with the National Automobile Dealers Association. Japanese automakers have been hampered by supply problems in the wake of the Japanese tsunami in March, while European automakers are worried about slow growth there.

"The Detroit Three dealers had nearly 50 percent of the inventory available for sale during December, and collectively enjoyed sales increases of more than 12 percent," Taylor said.

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