Traffic is moving on the Brand Boulevard of Cars, as local auto dealers say national sales numbers for major manufacturers are an accurate reflection of what they are seeing in showrooms.
"Not since January of 2008 have we had this strong a month," said Jeanne Brewer, general manager of Acura of Glendale.
Asked what spurred the shift, Brewer joked, "I don't know, but I've told everyone, 'Don't change a thing.'"
GM, which emerged from bankruptcy and government control earlier this year, reported a sales increase of 21% for the year.
No. 2 automaker Ford Motor Co. reported a 19.4% increase in sales in 2010 and a 6.7% gain in December over the same period a year ago. Other manufacturers reported Tuesday that they are in positive territory with the exception of Toyota, which saw sales dip by 5.5% in December. Overall, Toyota sales in the U.S. were nearly flat compared with 2009.
Johnny Harrison, president of the Brand Boulevard of Cars Auto Dealers Assn., said he believes sales improved in the region, though California continues to lag behind other parts of the country. He said a year-end array of rebates and financing deals worked their magic.
"I think the manufacturers across the board have all done a good job on marketing and incentives, trying to get rid of the previous-year models," said Harrison, vice president and general manager of Lexus of Glendale.
Dealers reported strong sales for fuel-efficient cars, such as the Acura TSX and Ford Fiesta. Hossein Nadjar, general sales manager at Allen Gwynn Chevrolet, said his allotment of five Chevrolet Volts, the electric vehicle GM rolled out in the middle of the month, "lasted for two hours."
But the pace also picked up for trucks, SUVs and larger sedans.
Dealers said lenders helped boost the auto market by going easier on would-be buyers.
"Credit is still tight," Harrison said. "But we are able to get deals done today that we couldn't in the first part to the middle of last year."
While dealers are upbeat about 2011, the sales spurt does not mean a return to glory days.
Brewer said her last "really great" month was in 2006, before the threat of a Writers' Guild of America strike cast a pall over the local market. Then came the recession.
"We still have some healing to do," Brewer said. "But this was the first month in a long time when we've been this optimistic."