DETROIT - Chrysler finished 2013 with a 9 percent sales increase, posting its best annual numbers in six years as the auto industry's recovery hit full stride.
The company said Friday that it sold just over 1.8 million cars and trucks last year, up from 1.65 million a year earlier, led by record global sales of Jeep brand vehicles.
The strong numbers from Chrysler are a sign that automakers closed out 2013 on a good note. Industry analysts estimate sales rose around 8 percent last year, to roughly 15.6 million. That would be the best year since 2007, when automakers used big discounts to sell 16.1 million vehicles.
But the hearty growth rate is expected to slow in 2014. Auto sales have risen by more than a million vehicles per year since 2009, when just 10.4 million cars and trucks sold. But some analysts expect growth to slow to as little as 400,000 this year, with total sales around 16 million.
That should be good news for shoppers: automakers likely will offer deals to protect or increase market share.
"We think there's going to definitely be more competition," said Larry Dominique, president of Automotive Lease Guide, a company that tracks lease costs and car prices.
As a result, Dominique said, consumers should look for more bargains, especially on pickup trucks and midsize cars.
For December, most analysts are predicting that Americans bought around 1.4 million new cars and trucks, the fourth-best month of the year, as consumers took advantage of year-end closeouts, low interest rates and sweet lease deals.
Chrysler sales gained 6 percent last month, with truck sales rising 15 percent and car sales down 17 percent. December is normally a strong month for truck sales nationwide. Jeep brand sales, led by the new Cherokee small SUV, rose 34 percent for the month. Chrysler sold just over 15,000 Cherokees in its second full month on the market.
Jeep sales rose 34 percent in December and 3 percent for the year. Final numbers aren't in, but Chrysler says Jeep sales worldwide in 2013 will surpass the 2012 record of 701,626.
Dominique also thinks the pent-up demand that has driven sales is starting to ease. People have been replacing cars and trucks they kept through the recession and the slow recovery. The average age of a vehicle on U.S. roads today is a record 11.4 years, according to the Polk research firm.
In December automakers raised rebates and other incentives as they pushed to make year-end sales goals. Average incentives were up 4 percent compared with a year ago to $2,676 as Ford, Hyundai/Kia and Honda led the way with sweet deals, according to the TrueCar.com auto pricing site.
Ford raised incentives a whopping 22 percent as it sparred with Chevrolet and GMC over pickup truck sales and battled for small-car buyers, Dominique said. Hyundai/Kia incentives were up nearly 18 percent, while Honda raised its deals by almost 15 percent, according to TrueCar. Ford Focus buyers, for instance, could get as much as 25 percent off the sticker price, according to Dominique. Only Chrysler, which traditionally has had high incentives, cut them in December, by 9 percent.