DETROIT — Chrysler's U.S. sales jumped 26 percent last year, capping a remarkable turnaround for a company that nearly collapsed in 2009.
Chrysler Group LLC, 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 Motor Co. also reported a strong 2011 as sales rose nearly 15 percent. Chrysler and Nissan are among the first carmakers to report sales Wednesday.
Chrysler ended the year with a 37 percent increase in December sales on strong demand for the Jeep Wrangler and Chrysler 200 sedan. Analysts expect December to be a strong sales month for the entire U.S. industry. Americans felt more confident about the economy and there was pent-up demand. The average age of a car on U.S. roads is now approaching 11 years. Analysts expect sales of new cars and trucks to reach around 12.7 million, up from 11.5 million in 2010.
Chrysler's strong December shows how well it's fared under new Italian ownership. Many thought the company wouldn't survive 2010, but now Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Chrysler and Fiat, has predicted a 2011 net profit of $600 million, up from a range of $200 million to $500 million.
"Over the past 12 months, we successfully changed the conversation from Chrysler's survival to products and service that consumers expect and want from a great American automaker," Marchionne said in an e-mail to employees.
Chrysler nearly ran out of cash in 2009 and needed government help to survive. Chrysler is now expected to jump ahead of Honda as the No. 4 U.S. automaker in 2011.>
Nissan sold just over one 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.