The strength of the U.S. auto market is often used as a barometer for the economy at large. When sales are bad, as they were in the wake of the financial crisis, the economy is usually doing poorly — when sales are good, as they were in 2013, the economy is usually doing well. Total light vehicle sales increased 7.6 percent in 2013, finishing just above 15.6 million. It was the best sales year in six years, born on the back of relatively cheap credit and an increasingly healthy and confident consumer.
A rising tide, though, doesn’t necessarily lift all boats equally. Behind the headline number are the major auto makers that participate in the U.S. market, some of which gained market share in 2013 and some of which lost market share. The largest players in this arena are General Motors (NYSE:GM), with 17.9 percent market share, Ford (NYSE:F), with 15.9 percent market share, Chrysler, with 11.5 percent market share, and Toyota (NYSE:TM), with 14.3 percent market share.
As a group, the Detroit Three only gained about 0.5 percent additional market share in 2013, while Toyota’s share actually declined 0.1 percent, but many companies make up the U.S. auto market and experienced shifts in 2013. Here are the five automakers that experienced the largest shifts in their claim to the U.S. market.
1) Hyundai Motor America
Hyundai’s U.S. market share fell from 4.9 percent in 2012 to 4.6 percent in 2013. The Korean automaker experienced a fair share of success with the Elantra, which at $17,200 and 247,912 sales was one of the most popular cars in America in 2013, but at the end of the day overall sales suffered at the expense of competitors.
An outlook recently released by Hyundai and Kia executives pegs combined sales growth of 4.1 percent in 2014, below analyst expectations of about 8 million. At the heart of the lower-than-anticipated projection was, perhaps not surprisingly, currency issues — a strong Korean won is competing with an increasingly weakening Japanese yen. In international markets, this gives Japanese manufacturers a price advantage when their vehicles are cross-shopped with Kia and Hyundai units.
2) Kia Motors America
Joining Hyundai is Kia. Kia’s U.S. market share fell from 3.8 percent in 2012 to 3.4 percent in 2013, and had a bad year for many of the same reasons that Hyundai had a bad year.
It’s important to point out that Korean car manufacturers weren’t the only foreign companies experiencing trouble in the U.S. market in 2013. As noted, Toyota’s market share contracted by 0.1 percentage point. When the dust settled on 2013, U.S. and European car manufacturers, hungry to recover from the recession, outsold their foreign competitors.
3) Subaru of America
Slow and steady seems to be the mantra at Subaru. The company’s reputation for producing reliable, affordable, quality vehicles helped it expand its U.S. market share by 0.4 percentage points. Subaru’s U.S. market share increased from 2.3 percent in 2012 to 2.7 percent in 2013.
At an entry price of $18,000 the Subaru Impreza Premium is considered one of the best buys from 2013.
4) Volkswagen of America (VLKAY.PK)
Experiencing severe headwinds in Europe, Volkswagen’s share of the U.S. market shrank in 2013. The German car maker’s U.S. market share fell from 3.0 percent in 2012 to 2.6 percent in 2013.
It wasn’t all bad for Volkswagen in 2013, though. Volkswagen may have lost some ground in the U.S., but it may have more than made up for the loss in foreign markets such as China. The carmaker is giving GM a serious run for its money in China, where it could become the sales leader in the near future.
5) Ford Motor Company
Ford grew its U.S. market share the most of any major car manufacturer, increasing its claim to the market from 15.5 percent in 2012 to 15.9 percent in 2013. The company’s success in recent years has been born on the back of flagship vehicles such as the F-Series and Fusion.
However, in order to reach out to a greater number of consumers all over the world, Ford is betting that smaller, cheaper cars such as the Fiesta and Ka will become increasingly popular. Smaller and cheaper cars will help combat some price drift that has pushed away some budget-conscious consumers, both in the U.S. and abroad.