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More Sales, More Luxury in 2012 Car Sales

Stocks in this article: F GM HMC TM

DETROIT TheStreet) -- As 2011 comes to an end with the pace of auto sales accelerating, it make sense to expect the trend will continue next year.

Additionally, it seems likely that that new products, led by the BMW-3 Series and 2013 versions of the Ford (F) Fusion and Chevrolet Malibu, will lure buyers in their segments, and also that 2012's biggest auto industry stories could include fulfillment of Volkswagen's promise to grow its U.S. market share.

GM plans to use a renewed Malibu to draw buyers next year.

"Volkswagen is one of the largest automakers in the world, yet what they sell in the U.S. is peanuts," says TrueCar.com market analyst Jesse Toprak. Volkswagen's U.S. focus was underscored by the opening of a Chattanooga, Tenn., plant in May.

Automakers aren't quite ready to issue 2012 sales forecast, but Toprak expects 2012 light vehicle sales of 13.8 million units, up from about 12.8 million in 2011. "The fundamental consumer demand has improved this year and will continue to improve further in 2012," Toprak says. "The myth of pent-up demand has turned out to be at least partially true: Consumers at some point need to get a new car."

Widespread projections of continued economic growth, albeit slow growth, combined with a surge in sales in the current quarter, buttress expectations for continued growth in 2012 sales.

Among new products, the most important 2012 introduction could well the BMW 3-Series, debuting next month at the Detroit Auto Show, with a market launch in February. "The 3-Series has generated a lot of buzz," says Ed Loh, editor-in-chief of Motor Trend. "This is the bread and butter luxury segment, and I think it will see growth in 2012."

Loh says GM (GM) will seek to challenge BMW's segment dominance with the 2013 Cadillac ATS, which is slated to make its world premier at the Detroit show. Production will begin next summer in Lansing, Mich.

"ATS is a crucial part of Cadillac's expansion," Mary Barra, GM senior vice president of global product development, recently told the Automotive Press Association. "ATS enters the biggest market segment in the global luxury car industry, both in terms of volume and importance."

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