Automakers Cross Finish Line In Style

Automakers sprinted to the finish line in December, creating the the best bookend in 13 years. The final month of the year saw auto sales increase by 6% versus the final month of 2012. And those sales weren't pushed through with a commensurate increase in incentives. 

Kelley Blue Book reported that transaction prices in December were up $197 versus November, with the average price per vehicle at $32,890. They were down only half a percent versus last year.

Online auto market AutoNation reported that the big increase in sales on a percentage basis were mostly represented by luxury cars and trucks, up 18% versus December the year before. 

The market had a head start after a torrid November, in which sales set a pace not seen since before the recession: Sales were up 8.9% from the month in 2012 and up 3.1% from October. 

Luxury helped everyone in December. At Honda, for instance, which brought in a new agency and an utterly new positioning for its Acura brand, average transaction prices increased 10.8% for the brand versus 2012, while Honda achieved 2.5% year-over-year increases in average prices. 

AutoNation reported that while prices of all three of Toyota's brands were up, Lexus increased the most, with transaction prices up 4.4%. Prices of Scion vehicles were up 2.4% and those of Toyota brand cars and trucks were up 2.2%, per KBB. Autonation said that 77,964 cars and trucks were sold through its network in the fourth quarter, a 9% increase versus 2012. 

Luxury brands also got mileage with year-end advertising campaigns touting lease offers. Auto sales and research site Edmunds.com said the consumers responded to the pitch, with the market getting its highest single-month lease rate (27.5%) on record. In what was probably an acknowledgement of the effectiveness of tier-two lower-funnel advertising by the import brands like Mercedes-Benz, most European branded vehicles sold in December were leased, per Edmunds.

Said Michelle Krebs, chief auto analyst at the Los Angeles-based company: "It's entirely possible that we look back at 2013 as the Year of the Lease, and it will be fascinating to see if this becomes an even bigger trend in 2014. Used car buyers may even expect to see prices come down sharply three years from now when all these leased vehicles come back to market."

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