US auto sales last year at 10.4 million were the worst since 1982. Even this figure was slightly artificial, due to the support provided by the $3bn 'cash for clunkers' programme in the summer.
This impact can be seen in the chart, with total volumes (black line) picking up again in December under the impact of major discounting as manufacturers cleared stocks of deleted model lines. Overall:
• Toyota (red dotted line) moved into the No 1 spot for the first time
• GM (blue line) continued to downsize, after its bankruptcy
• Ford (green line) remained the most successful American manufacturer
• Chrysler (purple line) made little progress under Fiat's ownership
Total sales of chemicals and polymers to the US industry were worth just $31bn in the year, based on the ACC's estimate of $2973/auto. Between 1995- 2007 they were worth $45-50bn at today's value, with auto sales steady at 15 - 17 million/year. And even the most optimistic analysts only expect 2010 sales to recover to 12.5m.
On a more positive note, China is now the world's largest auto market at 13.6m. Its sales grew 46% last year, under the impact of the government's stimulus programme, which including halving the sales tax on smaller cars. But analysts suggest growth will moderate to 5% in 2010.
The other bright spot for auto sales this year should be India, where sales rose 17% in 2009. But analysts expect Europe and Japan to remain difficult, as consumers continue to cut back on non-essential items. Even with incentives, Japan expects 2010 sales to be at 1978 levels.