The U.S. light-vehicle market didn’t end 2012 with as much of a bang as expected, but December still marked the second straight month of 15 million-plus seasonally adjusted annual rates, while volume for the entire year reached a 5-year high.

Total sales of 1.351 million units equaled a daily rate over the month’s 26 selling days of 51,947, 13.2% above like-2011’s 45,890 over 27 days.

There were some spot increases to incentives at month’s end, as auto makers looked to clean out excess inventory and shore up market share, but the added spiffs did not appear to have a major impact on December’s results.

The month’s 15.3 million SAAR fell below November’s 15.5 million, but was well above like-2011’s 13.6 million. The fourth-quarter SAAR of 15.0 million easily surpassed the prior-quarter’s 14.5 million and represents the best quarterly results since 15.2 million in January-March 2008.

The final LV tally for the year was 14.4 million, 13.4% above 2011 and marking the best year since 16.1 million in 2007. It’s also the third straight year-over-year increase since the industry bottomed out at 10.4 million in 2009 – a 27-year low.

All car-segment groups and cross/utility vehicles recorded gains above the industry average in December, more than offsetting a decline in vans and weak growth for SUVs.

Sales of small cars surged 28.3% above year-ago in December and for entire 2012 accounted for 19.6% of sales, the highest since 20.0% in 1993. Small-car volume for the year of 2.825 million was the highest since 2.834 million in 1991.

Large pickups, although below the industry average, had better year-over-year results in December compared with recent months, thanks to General Motors ramping up spiffs to go along with generous offerings by Chrysler on its Ram pickup.

Sales of large pickups increased 10.1% in December from like-2011, the segment’s best year-over-year gain in four months. For 2012, the segment posted a 9.1% increase, but share dropped to 11.2% from 11.6% in 2011.

Market-leader GM posted its 10th consecutive year-over-year rise in December, with sales up 8.9%, but that didn’t stop its market share for the year from dropping to its lowest in at least the post-World War II era. GM’s 2012 deliveries totaled 2.596 million units for an 18.0% share of the market, compared with 2001’s 2.504 million and 19.7%.

Ford’s tepid 5.5% December gain left it with 2012 sales of 2.206 million, up 4.5% from 2011. Excluding its previous ownership of several European luxury brands, Ford’s 2012 share of 15.3% marked its lowest since a similar total in 2009.

Toyota’s 13.2% December increase represented its 14th straight monthly increase. Its 2012 volume was up 26.6% to 2.082 million, while market share surged to 14.4% from 12.9% in 2011.

Chrysler capped 2012 with a 14.6% jump in December, its 33rd straight year-over-year gain. Sales ended at 1.154 million, 14.5% above 2011 and rocketing the auto maker to a 11.4% share, its best since 2007.

Honda took claim to year-over-year increases in 11 of 12 months in 2012, including a 31.0% uptick in December. Its 2012 sales ended at 1.423 million units, up 24.0% from 2011, and its share increased from 9.0% to 9.9%.

After stopping two straight declines with a 12.9% increase in November, Nissan ended the year with a paltry 2.2% increase in December. However, the auto maker did have its best sales year ever on volume of 1.142 million vehicles, though its market share declined to 7.9% from 2011’s 8.2%.

Volkswagen/Audi recorded another major gain in December with a 35.3% increase. VWA’s 2012 sales of 577,443 and 4.0% share were its highest in decades.

Hyundai-Kia continued to forge ahead with strong year-over-year sales gains in December and all of 2012. However, the Hyundai brand recorded its first year-to-year share decline since 1998, while Kia has gained share every year since it entered the U.S. in 1993.

hstoddard@wardsauto.com