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US auto sales end 2012 on strong note

An improving economy and a high average age of US vehicles spurred Americans to buy new cars in 2012.

Nam Y. Huh /Associated Press

An improving economy and a high average age of US vehicles spurred Americans to buy new cars in 2012.

DETROIT — Strong US sales in December capped a remarkable year for the auto industry — especially Japanese brands — and 2013 should be even better. Sales of new cars and trucks are expected to total 14.5 million. That is 13 percent better than in 2011 and the best performance in five years.

In 2012, Americans had plenty of incentives to buy. Unemployment eased. Home sales and prices rose. And the average age of a car topped 11 years. Banks offered low interest rates and greater access to loans, even for those with weak credit.

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‘‘The US light vehicle sales market continues to be a bright spot in the tremulous global environment,’’ said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for LMC Automotive, a Detroit-area industry forecasting firm.

Toyota, which has recovered from an earthquake and tsunami in Japan that crimped its factories two years ago, said sales jumped 27 percent for 2012. Unlike in 2011, the company had plenty of new cars on dealer lots for most of last year.

Honda sales rose 24 percent for the year. Nissan and Infiniti sales were up nearly 10 percent. Volkswagen led major automakers with sales up a staggering 35 percent.

Chrysler sales jumped 21 percent. But Ford and General Motors lagged. GM sales rose 3.7 percent for the year, while Ford edged up 5 percent.

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