US car sales jumped by more than 13 per cent in 2012, the fastest growth rate in more than two decades, as the sector fought through economic headwinds to continue rebounding from near-collapse in 2009.

The big three US carmakers all posted domestic sales gains in December. General Motors, the world’s largest carmaker by volume, was up 5 per cent over the same month in the previous year, Ford was up 2 per cent and Chrysler, controlled by Italy’s Fiat, was up 10 per cent.

The December figures took US light vehicle sales – which exclude heavy trucks – up to 14.5m for the year, 13.5 per cent up on the 2011 figure. US sales of Asian brands, led by Toyota’s 9 per cent increase in December, grew even faster than the biggest domestic carmakers as they recovered from the effects of 2011’s Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

Chrysler grew fastest among the domestic automakers for the full year, with a 21 per cent increase in US sales. Ford followed with a 4.7 per cent increase, and GM’s sales were up 3.7 per cent for the year.

Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst for, the car information website, said 2012 had been a “tremendous year of growth” for the automotive industry, with sales rising faster than in any year for at least the last two decades.

The Seasonally-Adjusted Annual Rate (Saar) of sales – a figure for the current annual sales rate, adjusted for seasonal fluctuations – was around 15.5m light vehicles, up 14 per cent on last December.

“December sales made the biggest statement with not only the highest Saar of the year, but also the highest Saar of any month since before the recession started,” Ms Caldwell said.

“This growth is mainly driven by low interest rates, new products with appealing technology features, pent-up demand and an overall improved economy – especially in the housing market,” she added.

Kurt McNeil, GM’s vice-president for US sales operations, said that, following Monday’s compromise over the US budget, he expected light vehicle sales for 2013 to rise another 3.5 to 7 per cent from the 2012 figure.

“GM’s strong finish in 2012, the industry’s momentum and the overall health of the US economy make us optimistic about 2013,” Mr McNeil said.

The figures hid some variation between manufacturers. In the key battle to compete with German and Asian luxury carmakers, GM's Cadillac luxury brand grew 12.2 per cent in December, faster than any of its other marques. Meanwhile, Ford’s Lincoln, which sought to relaunch itself during the month, suffered a 12.1 per cent fall against the previous December.

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