DETROIT, Jan. 17, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- The North American automotive market in 2012 has been the "bright spot" amid the uncertain global scenario, according to Ernst & Young's Global Automotive Center. Driven by improved consumer confidence, pent-up demand and easier credit availability, sales of light vehicles reached 17.13 million units, registering a growth of 12.5 percent. Production in North America also continued to increase, with more than 95 percent capacity utilization observed for 2012. In line with demand, the production of small cars in North America has steadily grown during the past few years. US market Light vehicle sales in the US grew 13.42 percent, reaching 14.46 million units in 2012. "Demand remained strong throughout the year as the average light vehicle age reached 11 years (a record high), the share of subprime loans grew to ease credit availability and the economic scenario improved," said Mike Hanley, Global Automotive Leader at Ernst & Young. "Vehicle sales got another boost toward the year end, as customers rushed to replace their damaged vehicles in the aftermath of the Superstorm Sandy." As a result of the strong growth in new car sales, used vehicle prices continued to decline during the year. The share of subprime loans remained especially high in the case of used cars. The growth in sales was accompanied by a change in the segment mix of vehicles. The preference of US customers is shifting toward smaller cars, and as a result, the share of small-sized cars touched a historic high of around one-fifth of new car sales in 2012. The penetration of diesel cars also increased significantly (albeit from a low base) amid rising awareness of diesel as a clean fuel and a slew of new launches in this segment. However, diesel car sales made up less than 1 percent of 2012 volumes.