Consumer car buying beat expectations in December 2009, with US automakers reporting a broadly positive end to the year.

According to figures released January 5, several major automakers posted year-on-year boosts of more than one third. Ford car sales against 2008 were up 42 percent, crossover sales were up 51 percent, and sport utilities were up 33 percent. The Ford Fusion posted a December sales increase of a whopping 83 percent, while Ford Hybrid vehicle sales jumped 147 percent against the same period in 2008. Last year, the firm sold some 33,502 hybrids, a new record.

"December was Ford's best sales month in about a year and a half, it was easily the best month of this year, you have to go back to May of 2008 to find a stronger month," said George Pipas, Ford sales analyst.

Toyota reported equally strong sales gains, with car sales boosted 34.6 percent from last year. General Motors reported a 36 percent boost among passenger car sales, despite showing an overall decline, which the company attributed to fleet sales. Carmakers around the world will be encouraged by the boosted sales, which follow announcements from several European nations of a positive December.

Nevertheless, 2009 remains one of the most tumultuous years on record for consumer car buying - the threatened disappearance of some of the world's best-known brands prompted huge government bailouts to keep the industry afloat. Almost every major manufacturer has reported depressed annual sales for the year, despite generous government "cash-for-clunkers" subsidy schemes that have been introduced around the world to keep consumers buying. All of the incentives and interventions, however, could not save some big names such as Saturn, Pontiac and Saab from disappearance.

Although December's sales are undoubtedly some good news at the end of a bad year, the auto industry has been humbled by the recession and consumers are yet to demonstrate that they are ready to start buying en masse again. The prospects for next year? "I'm leaving my seat belt on," said one sales boss.

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