6 Best-Selling Cars for 2012

DETROIT ( TheStreet) -- As the U.S. auto industry finished out a strong year with a sales gain of 13.4% to 14.5 million vehicles, the best year since 2007, six vehicles sold more than 300,000 units each.

Two pickup trucks are the best-selling U.S. vehicles, and Japanese manufacturers dominate the mid-sized sedan segment, the biggest U.S. auto segment, as well as the compact segment.

Looking at percentage changes among top-selling vehicles, the 44% gain for the Honda ( HMC) Civic stands out, followed closely by the 41% increase for the Accord. The only other top-selling vehicle with a 40% gain was the No. 11 Ford ( F) Focus, which climbed 40% to reach 245,922 units.

As auto sales rose for the third consecutive year, not a single vehicle in the top 11 lost sales. Sales of the No. 12 Ford Fusion declined 2.7% to 241,263 million, a result of the changeover to the eagerly awaited 2014 model as well as two December recalls.

It is not unreasonable to think that Fusion will crack the top 10 list in 2013. Check back here next year to find out.

In the meantime, here are the top selling U.S. vehicles during 2012.

Nissan Altima

Nissan ( NSANY) Altima sold 302,934 units in 2012, up 12.6% from a year earlier. It was the first time that Altima's U.S. sales topped 300,000.

The Altima is more than holding its own in the tough battlefor dominance in the mid-sized sedan sector, which accounts for three of the top six vehicles and where Fusion also competes as does GM's ( GM) Chevrolet Malibu, which sold 210,951 units, up 3% in 2013.

Nissan's U.S. sales, including Infiniti sales, totaled 1.14 million, topping 1 million for the second year in a row. Many of the cars, including Altima, were produced at the Nissan plant in Smyrna, Tenn. Nissan introduced a redesigned Altima in Smyrna in May and said its goal is to catch Toyota ( TM) Camry.

It is good to have goals.

Honda Civic

Honda Civic sold 317,909 units in 2012, up 43.7% from the previous year, the biggest gain among the top 20 U.S. vehicles, reflecting the strong recovery by Japanese automakers following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Honda leads in the compact segment, despite intense pressure created by Korean manufacturers, by the Detroit Three which have been increasingly successful in compact markets including California, and by its own goof when it redesigned the 2012 Civic.

The redesign was not well-received and Consumer Reports declined to recommend the car for the first time in a generation. So Honda quickly offered a redesigned the 2013 model, which was unveiled last month at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Honda Accord

Honda Accord sold 331,872 units in 2012, up 40.8%, another reflection of the strong recovery from a year in which inventories were sharply reduced.

Accord, like Altima, competes in the mid-sized sedan segment. It is one of three finalists for North American car of the year, along with the Cadillac ATS and Fusion.

After driving the 2013 Accord, Karl Brauer, CEO of Total Car Score and a member of the Automotive Press Association jury for car of the year, said, "The quality seeps through the car. It's got the feel of a Mercedes -- you know you're in a Mercedes if you feel like you're in a bank vault. Accord is not quite as nimble as a Fusion, but I think it is a better car."

Toyota Camry

Toyota Camry sold 404,886 units in 2012, up 31.2%, despite a 6.3% drop in December sales. It remained the best-selling car in the U.S. for the 11th consecutive year.

A new Camry went on sale in October 2011 and has been a major success. On the Toyota December sales call, Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota USA, noted that for the first time since 2008 Camry sales topped 400,000, "well above our objective of 360,000" and "about 70,000 units ahead of the nearest competitor."

Lentz said the Toyota SE "brought new and younger buyers into the Toyota family. The SE accounts for 40% of sales and the average age of its buyers is 44. That dropped the average age of a Camry buyer to 51 from 60 for the car's previous generation.

Chevrolet Silverado

Chevrolet Silverado sales were nearly flat in 2012, rising 0.8% to 418,312.

Still, Silverado was perhaps the most discussed vehicle of 2012, with near-obsessive attention to its inventory level, as GM built inventories in the second half of the year in order to prepare for production halt as it prepares for the introduction of the 2014 Silverado, which it rolled out last month.

GM obviously got the timing right, bringing out a new Silverado just as housing construction, a major market for pickup trucks, appears to be heading into a serious revival. What remains to be seen is whether GM got the truck right.

In December, by the way, Silverado sales rose 6.1% to 50,699, while Camry sales fell 6.3% to 31,407. This enabled Silverado to nose out Camry for the second best-selling U.S. vehicle, even though Camry was second at the end of November.

Ford F-Series

Ford F-Series sales rose 10.3% in 2012 to 645,316 units, which is 227,004 units ahead of the closest competitor. F-Series has been the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. for three decades.

It is worth noting, however, that sales of the GMC Sierra totaled 157,185. Combined sales of the two GM trucks, Sierra and Silverado, totaled 644,906 units. On the GM December sales call, Kurt McNeil, vice president of U.S. sales operations, noted that in December combined sales for the two GM trucks "gave us truck leadership for the month." Sierra and Silverado December sales totaled 69,409, compared with 68,787 for F-Series, which had its best month since August 2007.

"Ford can once again hold up the F-Series as the best-selling truck in 2012, but its dominance slowed noticeably by the end of the year," said Edmunds.com analyst Michelle Krebs, in a prepared statement. "F-Series sales were virtually flat in December, and Ford's truck sales overall were down more than 7 percent. Stronger competition from Chevy and Ram is making Ford look a little less invincible these days."

Ford is good at fixing problems, but can it fix this one? The automaker is expected to reveal the 2015 F-150 at the Detroit Auto Show, perhaps stealing a bit of the auto industry's attention from the new Silverado.

At an investor conference in November, Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields was coy regarding the question of whether Ford will bring out a new F-150. "We take leadership very seriously," he said. "We also know that as a leader you have a target on your back. That's what drives our product planning going forward."

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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