FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2011 file photo, Jonathan Browning, left, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, and Frank Fischer, head of the Volkswagen production facility in Chattanooga, Tenn., pose with a Volkswagen Passat and the award it received as Motor Trend Car of the Year for 2012 at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Volkswagen of America Inc. said Wednesday that its sales jumped 26.3 percent in 2011 on strong demand for its top-selling Jetta models and redesigned Passat sedan.Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Passat sales sped ahead last month with the Chattanooga-made sedan helping Volkswagen book its best December in the United States in nearly 40 years.
The all-new sedan garnered sales of 6,884 in the month, up 14.3 percent from November, according to the German automaker.
Since the Passat went on sale at dealerships in August, VW has sold 22,779 of the cars, up 124 percent over last year, the company reported Wednesday.
"We're pleased with the reception of Passat in the marketplace," said Jonathan Browning, VW of America's chief executive.
Overall, VW sold 32,502 vehicles in the U.S. in December, its best showing since 1972.
For the year, Volkswagen posted its highest 12-month period in the U.S. since 2002 with sales of 324,402, up 26.3 percent, according to the carmaker.
Jetta sedan sales totaled 150,515 for 2011, a 54.5 percent increase over 2010.
Auto analyst Ivan Drury of Edmunds.com said VW's momentum is worth watching.
"In 2012, VW is likely to experience more stable growth and maybe gain a rank or two in the U.S.," he said.
Across the country, Americans bought more cars and trucks last year, inspired by easier credit, an improved economy and the desire to replace aging vehicles that got them through the Great Recession, according to The Associated Press.
Sales rose sharply for the Detroit Three and for Japan's Nissan in 2011, aided by a surge in November and December. Analysts expect that momentum to continue into 2012.
After final figures are tallied late Wednesday, U.S. auto sales should rise to about 12.7 million in 2011, the AP said. That's a 10 percent jump from 2010 and 22 percent from 2009, when the U.S. auto industry and the financial system were in peril. Sales are almost certain to rise again in 2012, perhaps as high as 13.8 million, which would mark the third straight year of growth.
"Over the course of the fourth quarter of 2011, clear signs emerged that U.S. consumers are more confident and that other underpinnings of our economy are either stable or slowly improving," said Don Johnson, GM's U.S. sales chief.
Chrysler had a 2011 sales gain of 26 percent, followed by Nissan at 15 percent, GM at 13 percent and Ford at 11 percent, the companies reported Wednesday.
Chrysler Group LLC's strong showing for December capped a remarkable turnaround under its new Italian ownership. And it's expected to jump ahead of Honda as the No. 4 U.S. automaker in 2011.
Chrysler and GM nearly ran out of cash in 2009 and needed government help and a trip through bankruptcy protection to survive.
Chrysler, now majority owned by Fiat SpA, sold 1.37 million vehicles last year, about 284,000 more than in 2010. It has introduced 16 new or revamped models in the past two years, vehicles that have fueled its recovery.
Nissan sold just over 1 million cars and trucks last year, its best calendar year ever. The company said it sold 944,000 Nissans and more than 98,000 of its Infiniti luxury cars and SUVs. Previously, 2007 had been the company's best year.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...